Saturday, February 18, 2006

Virtual reality

I have been reading of late, not writing. Sure I've taken the occasional trip out into the barnyard, stirred the dust, made a few chicken scratches that the wind blurs immediately. But mainly reading.

Behind it all, I have also been thinking about a selected from 50 years of poetry. Not that far away now. Just over three years. It's a conceptual thing, not thought of often but kept on a shelf above my head, brought down, dusted off, brooded over when I doubt my worth. A postscript to a twenty volume suicide note perhaps. Should I last that long.

Perhaps that's why I've been reading. Anything to take my mind away. Age creeps up, the brain atrophies. Dessicates. Add water. But there has been little rain of late.

I have been reading Ian Rankin, the Inspector Rebus books. I'm not a great fan of English crime fiction, too many manors, too many Miss Marples most of the time. Much prefer U.S. or European. English crime fiction, for me, died after Sherlock Holmes had been resurrected & done his golden oldies tour. The only exception I'll make is for the Val McDermid novels which feature Tony Hill & Carol Jordan. Flawed characters. Like Rebus.

But Rebus, like Rankin himself, is Scottish which means I don't have to change my earlier-stated attitude. & the novels are set in a city, barely an oak-lined avenue in sight. I'd seen a couple of TV adaptions, but been slightly turned off them because the actor who played Rebus, John Hannah, had also played the lead in another series, McCallum. I'd enjoyed that short series – another flawed character - but because the transposition of a strong actor across roles tends to bring too many overtones of the earlier character, I kept getting the two confused.

So I hadn't got around to reading any of the books. Yes, it's preconception, prejudice, procrastination, exactly the same reasons why I've never bought, borrowed or stolen a book by Zukofsky. Still haven't with the latter, but I saw Rankin's latest novel, Fleshmarket Close, on sale, was running out of things to read, thought if I like this that means there are another fifteen novels and two collections of short stories by him which would fill some space up, bought it, liked it, went back and started reading the whole lot chronologically.

I'm currently up to number fourteen, Resurrection Men, the title a play on the name by which Burke & Hare – aka The Bodysnatchers – were known (though Burke & Hare are found as background to the novel before). Some of the books are great, some are flawed like Rebus. But I find flawed a major attribute of any character, real or imagined, that I like. The books are immensely enjoyable, & reading them this way is like reading one enormous novel. Rankin has created a credible landscape, probably more real than imagined, by insinuation, by wrapping it around his characters, &, as you grow to know them, you get to know more about the place itself.

I think this aspect of U.S. crime fiction is why I like it so much. From Chandler & Hammett on, place has always been as critical to the construction as the characters. & for someone like myself, who tends to feel out of place much of the time, having a place to slot in to, even if only temporarily, even if just as an onlooker, a pedestrian on the sidewalk, is something I value immensely.

1 comment:

Tom Beckett said...

I feel much the same way about crime story locations. And am a huge fan of Rankin.