Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back to Nature

I spent last week in southern Mississippi, just off the Gulf Coast.  It was quite a bit warmer down there than it is up here and I was able to spend some time by the pool, reading in the sun. 
I started Louise Welsh's Naming the Bones shortly after it was released in March 2010.  Somewhere around page 90 I picked up a copy of The Hunter by Richard Stark and was detained by Parker for the next several months.  Which was a shame because Naming the Bones is fantastic.  It has all the things I like in a book:  dead writers, biographers, academics, murder, archives, lost manuscripts, hidden secrets, and a Scottish setting.  And some illicit sex.  I started over and this time gave it my full attention.  For which I was richly rewarded - its an excellent novel.

Somehow I bought a paperback copy of this book.  I meant to get a hard cover first edition but I guess I put the wrong version in my cart.  I wonder if there was a hard cover edition?  This makes me unhappy.

A few months ago, Existential Ennui wrote about Rogue Male, Ordinary Thunderstorms, and Concrete Island in a post called Going Underground.  I've been thinking about it ever since - in particular, I've been hoping for an an updated version which incorporates Richard Stark's Slayground - a book he was close to reading back then and that fits in perfectly with those three books.  The second half of Naming the Bones is set on a remote Scottish island and much of the writing concerns nature and landscape and they play similarly important roles as they do in RM, OT and CI.  All of which leads me to a gross generalization - nature and landscape don't seem to play much a role in modern American fiction.  There's plenty of it in English fiction but not so much in American.  In the Stark example here, the landscape is almost entirely artificial.  And nearly everything else on the American side is almost entirely urban.  In the UK it is perfectly normal to have thrillers and mysteries in rural settings and for them to work perfectly. 

I'm now reading Donald Westlake's newly published lost novel Memory.  I don't know what to make of it.  I like it because its Westlake - but I have the feeling it would never have been published or would have been long forgotten if it were by someone other than Westlake.  And some 50 years later, one can't help but feeling that what once was a noir staple - amnesia - is now better thought of as badly misdiagnosed traumatic brain injury.  But still I read on.

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