One-Minute Book Reviews

September 26, 2008

Why Do Novelists Use Unreliable Narration? (Quote of the Day on ‘The Remains of the Day’/David Lodge)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:25 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Unreliable narration – an author’s use of a storyteller we can’t fully trust – helps to explain the appeal of books as different as Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. But why do fiction writers use the device when most of us can more easily relative to relate to narrators we can trust? Is it just for the shock value that unreliable narration can create when we finish a story and realize that the teller has given us a skewed version of events (an effect that caused outrage when Agatha Christie used it in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)?

David Lodge offers one explanation in The Art of Fiction: Illustrated From Classic and Modern Texts (Viking, 1993), an excellent collection of 50 short essays on as many aspects of how fiction works. Lodge notes that the story in The Remains of the Day is told by the aging butler of an English stately home who “repeatedly gives a favorable account of himself which turns out to be flawed or deceptive.” He adds that no storyteller can be one-hundred percent unreliable:

“If everything he or she says is palpably false, that only tells us what we already know, namely that a novel is a work of fiction. There must be some possibility of discriminating between truth and falsehood within the imagined world of the novel, as there is in the real world, for the story to engage our interest.

“The point of using an unreliable narrator is indeed to reveal an interesting gap between appearance and reality, and to show how human beings distort or conceal the latter. This need not be a conscious, or mischievous, intention on their part. The narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel is not an evil man, but his life has been based on the suppression and evasion of truth, about himself and about others. His narrative is a kind of confession, but it is riddled with devious self-justification and special pleading, and only at the very end does he arrive at an understanding of himself – too late to profit by it.”

For more on unreliable narration, see “The Turn of the Twin Towers – Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland and Unreliable Narration” and the reading group guide to Netherland, which appeared in separate posts on June 24

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 4, 2008

Around the World in 80 Sleuths — A List of Crime-Solvers and Their Turf

Filed under: Mysteries and Thrillers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:43 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Kerrie at the Mysteries in Paradise blog steered me to Jonathan Gibbs’s traveler-friendly post Around the World in 80 Sleuths in the Independent, which has thumbnail descriptions of 80 fictional crime-solvers and their haunts. The featured sleuths work in places that span the alphabet from roughly Amsterdam (Nicholas Freeling’s Inspector Piet Van der Valk in Because of Cats) to Ystad, Sweden (Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander in Faceless Killers). Kerrie covers additional ground on her unusually well-organized mystery blog, some of it in a recent review of R. N. Morris’s A Gentle Axe, set in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1866.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 3, 2008

The Five Essential Crime Novels Published Since 2000 Are …

Filed under: Mysteries and Thrillers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:45 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Since the 1970s, the two major branches of crime fiction — the English cozy and the American hard-boiled — have “divided and proliferated,” Richard Shephard and Nick Rennison argue in their 100 Must-Read Crime Novels (A&C Black, 2006), a Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide One result is that the field now ranges from “the tartan noir of Ian Rankin to the Roman scandals of Steven Saylor, from Donna Leon’s shadow-filled Venice to the mean streets of Walter Mosley’s LA.”

But can the recent expansion be sustained? How many of those “must-read” crime novels have appeared in the 21st century? Among the 100 essential books reviewed in their guide, Shephard and Rennison list five published since 2000:

Flinch (2001) by Robert Ferrigno. Ferrigno has set his books “mainly in the sun-kissed idyll and moral vacuum” of southern California, and he returns to it in Flinch. Reporter Jimmy Gage becomes involved in the hunt for a serial killer in a novel that, Shephard and Rennison say, “may well be Ferrigno’s finest offering.”

The Bottoms (2000) by Joe R. Lansdale. “Joe Lansdale is best known for his series of violently farcical novels in which Hap Collins, white and straight, and Leonard Pine, black and gay, join forces in an odd crime team let loose among the rednecks in the Deep South, but The Bottoms is something very different,” Shephard and Rennison write. The novel, set east Texas in the mid-1930s, involves the discovery of a mutilated body bound to a tree in the river bottoms near the home of its young narrator, Harry Crane.

Tell No One (2001) by Harlan Coben. A young married couple plan to celebrate the anniversary of their first kiss at a lake in Pennsylvania, but during the tryst Elizabeth is murdered and David is beaten and left for dead. Eight years later to the day, David receives an e-mail message telling him to visit a Web site that contains the command: “tell no one.” “Coben masterfully piles on the suspense and tension,” the editors say, and sets “a relentless pace that holds till the final page.”

Mystic River (2001) by Dennis Lehane. The plot may hinge on implausible coincidences, but Shephard and Rennison see this as an “entirely compelling story” about three friends and something terrible that happened to them twenty-five years ago in Boston. For an alternate view of Mystic River, see the review posted on this site on Oct. 17, 2006

Dialogues of the Dead (2002) by Reginald Hill. In a novel that brings back Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Chief Inspector Peter Pascoe of the Mid-Yorkshire police, two deaths regarded as accidents come under new scrutiny when stories entered in a library’s short story contest contain details only someone close to the crimes could have known. All of Hill’s fiction shows his love of word games and literary allusions, Shephard and Rennison say, and this book places that love at the heart of the plot.

Not sure you’d like any of those books? Bill Peschel has an archive of reviews of other mysteries at Reader’s Almanac

Have you read a good crime novel that you would recommend that others? If so why not leave a comment on the post for the latest meeting of One-Minute Book Reviews online book club, where people are discussing the books they are taking on vacation?

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 2, 2008

Five ‘Must-Read’ Crime Novels of the 20th Century — What Are Their 21st-Century Equivalents?

Filed under: Classics,Mysteries and Thrillers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:49 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Vera Caspary’s Laura. George V. Higgins’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Tony Hillerman’s A Thief of Time. Georges Simenon’s Maigret Sets a Trap. Ruth Rendell’s An Unkindness of Ravens. These five 20th-century books made a list of “100 Must-Read Crime Novels” in recent guide to detective stories and other kinds of suspense fiction. (Speaking just for myself: You could argue with some of those choices — is any of the scores of Maigret novels really the “best”? — but would even the most curmudgeonly fan of the genre object to The Friends of Eddie Coyle?) What are the five essential crime novels of the 21st century? Yes, the guide lists only five. The answer will appear tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 19, 2008

Who Killed Chuck Ramkissoon? ‘Netherland’ and Unreliable Narration – Coming Soon to One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:53 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

At the heart of Joseph O’Neill’s beautifully written new novel, Netherland, lies a mystery that remains unresolved at the end of the book: Who killed Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidadian cricketer who in the first chapter turns up dead in the Gowanus Canal? But is the mystery really unresolved? Is Netherland an oddly unfinished tale? Or is it a bold exercise in the unreliable narration that also drove Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent? An analysis of the evidence in Netherland will appear soon on One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

« Previous Page

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: