Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Unpleasantness at the Airdrie Club

From The Old Wives’ Tale I turned to David Keenan’s This is Memorial Device, thinking there would be a nice parallel in terms of books written about a backwater at the beginning of one century looking back at the end of the previous one. I was expecting it to rabbit on, and to be sexually transgressive, but the bit with the fetishisation of rips in surgically enhanced breasts was so revolting I didn’t much feel like carrying on beyond page 60. If I return to it, the questions will be: can the writing engage, rather than blindside and barnstorm? Can it be funny rather than swift and shocking? Can it shut up for a minute? Can it express something other than velocity through its headlong (long, long) sentences, and can it separate out its narrative voices (which have so far varied only in one character’s fondness for parentheses)? Perhaps it can. My feeling at the moment is that it thinks, ‘I’ve got rock and roll on my side, I can say anything’, a circular righteousness in wrongness that actual rock and roll, having tunes, is in a better position to get away with. I mean, it could all collapse into hilarious farce, or work as a championing of the old underground ways of doing things pre-internet. But still, yuck.

Instead, I picked up one of S.’s Dorothy L. Sayers books, The Unpleasantness at the Belona Club, which has an interesting exchange towards the end between Lord Peter Wimsey (speaking first) and Ann Dorland, one of the suspects in the murder case, about books:

        ‘Reading is an escape to me. Is it to you?’
        ‘How do you mean?’
        ‘Well – it is to most people, I think. Servants and factory hands read about beautiful girls loved by dark, handsome men, all covered over with jewels and moving in scenes of gilded splendour. And passionate spinsters read Ethel M. Dell. And dull men in offices read detective stories. They wouldn’t, if murder and police entered into their lives.’ […]
        ‘I don’t know,’ said Ann Dorland. ‘Of course, a detective story keeps your brain occupied. Rather like chess. Do you play chess?’
        ‘No good at it. I like it – but I keep on thinking about the history of the various pieces, and the picturesqueness of the moves. I’m not a player.’
        ‘Nor am I. I wish I were.’
        ‘Yes – that would keep one’s mind off things with a vengeance. Draughts or dominos or patience would be even better. No connection with anything.’ (pp. 236-7)

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