Re: RARA-AVIS: realism vs fantasy

Date: 17 Dec 2000

I liked Richard Moore's comments, which seem to be more -- well, realistic -- than some of the fantasies posted recently, based more on careless misreadings than anything more serious.

Of course Chandler's judgment is __loosely__ correct. BUT perhaps we ought to remember that the balance between fantasy and realism in crime novels is a little more complicated than some people seem to think. In real life -- you know, that stuff outside your armchair there -- most murder is more rare and a lot less interesting than the stuff we write and read about. In the heat of argument, I sometimes want to say

Look, guys, in your heart of hearts you know perfectly well that:
-most policemen, even, never get to deal with a murder;
-and PIs certainly don't;
-any more than the Vicar, Miss Marple, my thirtyish bookshop owner, or your maiden auntie;
-most violent killings are nasty, unmysterious and uninteresting, and done by killers whose motive and identity is boringly obvious, largely either because
----they are closely related to the victims,
----or it was a kind of accident related to another crime,
----or they are in some way insane,
----or several of the above.

From all this, I want to suggest that the elements that really interest readers of all the genres are
-the fictional elements: characterisation, structure, narrative twists, setting
-the moral debates in and arising from the story.

Perhaps by "realism" what we really mean is the extent to which all that is going on in a book says something relevant to us in our armchairs?

By the way, for what it's worth, the two books that most engaged my imagination this year (I am NOT trying to instigate a DorothyL Ten Best Books discussion here) have been Paretsky's Hard Time and Teran's God is a Bullet. Realism? Fantasy?

Marianne Macdonald


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