Friday, 3 September 2010

Noir - Robert Coover

Writing mostly in the 2nd person (‘You lean up against a rough wall, light up a fag..’) Coover succeeded here in putting me in the same shoes as his private eye, by which I mean I got completely lost and staggered from page to page, dazed and confused from about the halfway point. With the kind of perseverance required by all good gumshoes though I stayed on the case, simply because the prose is so stylishly good. In that respect, this is as much a homage to Chandler as it is to the iconography of film noir. This is most obvious by the nerve displayed in calling his PI Philip M. Noir. As a testament to the skill with which Coover rattles of the poetic pulp prose, he gets away with that. ‘You’ being the central character helps, of course.
   Chandler famously pleaded ignorance when asked who was responsible for a murder when Howards Hawks was filming The Big Sleep, and like good old Raymond, I too shrugged off plot details as I kept on walking down Coover’s hallucinogenic mean streets.
   ‘Everybody’s on that train. Nobody’s an original. To be obsessed is to be a wound-up actor in a conventional melo, with everyone else, the lucky ones, bit players at best. So it’s not the story you’re trapped in, like everyone else, but, once aware of that, how you play it out. Your style. Class. The moves you make.’
   Coover could be commenting on the dilemma facing any contemporary author trying to rewrite the golden age of detective fiction in the post-modern era. He places every chip on Style and wins, for me. He’s great at doing what the best crime writers did, which is capture the moody city at night and the presence, the character of the streets and the metropolis. It isn’t set in a particular time or place, which heightens the whole dream-like aspect of the book. How much of this is dream, how much memory? Time such a way as to recall Philip K Dick as much as Philip Marlowe.
   The book is as much a puzzle to me as the case Noir is trying to solve. How much of this is down to my failings or Coover’s skill I don’t know. Anyway, I’ll be reading it again because as far as I’m concerned, The Case of the Vanishing Black Widow is not closed.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds terrific. It's going on my Amazon wish list right now :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...