Finished any good books lately? I have. Yes, I finished a good book. They're the only kind I finish. I start more books than I finish. Is that wrong? The unfinished aren't bad books necessarily, they just aren't good enough for me.
What's good enough? As with all things relating to taste, that's not easy to define. I can't say 'I only love great stories', or 'Pulp fiction rules', or 'Radical texts that are meta, or plain mental is all I'm interested in' etc. Like most avid readers my taste is cross-genre. Perhaps 'genre' is a key word.
There are 'genre novels' and the rest, apparently. I'm not sure what constitutes 'the rest'...unless it's contemporary novels by the likes of Ian MacEwan...Zadie Smith (don't start me on her), who once met JG Ballard, of which she wrote: 'Every book I championed he hated. Every film he admired I'd never seen. (We didn't dare move on to the visual arts.) The only thing we seemed to have in common was King's College Cambridge,' That last line says it all. Although Ballard studied medicine at King's College for a couple of years in the late-40s and despite (or perhaps because of) his stuffy, bourgeois background, as you know, he went on to first embrace that lowly thing called 'genre fiction', worst of all, science-fiction, before exploring inner space and riding the New Wave in his unique, psycho-suburban, very English way.
Salman Rushdie's another one...and Martin Amis (although I respect his mind, I've never finished one of his novels). Anyway, that mob, the so-called 'golden generation' and their heirs, the ones too highbrow for genre and all attendees of 'good schools', which means university, which means they're not just writers, but Clever Writers who were, and probably still are, the Literary Mafia here in the UK. Them. They're the only ones qualified to make truly profound observations about life, of course. Not just profound, but profoundly Literary, which is what non-genre books are. That means not only 'big words' but an ability to harvest them from their throbbing brains and create fiction which gets to the core of life, usually life lived in a middle-class environment where trouble takes the form of extra-marital relationships...the price of a Frappuccino...er...sex (waning of during mid-life crisis)...I DON'T BLOODY KNOW! I've never read one of their damned novels. 'So,' you ask, 'how can you judge?' Just read the blurb! Or the reviews. That's enough. The day I mature into a sensible, well-read adult for whom that mob are the pinnacle of literature instead of Jim Thompson or James M. Cain, shoot me.
There's no shooting in Dorothy Hughes' In A Lonely Place, but despite that I loved it. Shooting is a good thing in books, especially those written between, say, 1920 and 1950. Shooting detectives, private eyes and pitiful desperate men or women on the verge of a nervous breakdown on mean streets or in small towns where the postman always rings twice and sheriffs are psycho killers, that kind of thing.
Despite the Pocket Book pulp cover In A Lonely Place is not your average pulp novel. Well, we know that even the greats got the cheap pulp cover treatment. In retrospect, that's a good thing because readers just looking for an easy thrill would have discovered brilliant writing instead and maybe even liked it. Written in 1947, it's too late for the classic pulp era anyway, although pulp equivalents were written long afterwards. It falls into the general category of Crime Fiction, but that hardly covers it despite the many crimes committed. It's an exploration of how a serial killer might think, the traumas he suffers and his desperate need to be loved.
Early on Hughes displays her talent with the kind writing that gets my vote:
'He didn't follow her at once. Actually, he didn't intend to follow her. It was entirely without volition that he found himself moving down the slant, winding walk. He didn't walk hard, as she did, nor did he walk fast. Yet she heard him coming behind her. He knew she heard him for her heel struck and extra beat, as if she had half stumbled, and her steps went faster. He didn't walk faster, he continued to saunter but he lengthened his stride, smiling slightly. She was afraid.'
See what I mean? The fact that Hughes does not describe Dix Steele's worst activities goes towards making the novel so great . You'll know what I mean if you read it.
On the subject of pulp fiction, here's a detail from something I made recently...
...more Mimmo from the blog here.