Re: RARA-AVIS: Ross Macdonald -- This list's Moving Target

From: Etienne Borgers (
Date: 01 Apr 2001

--- Kevin Burton Smith <> wrote:
> Etienne wrote:
> >Most of the critics of mystery lit put him on the
> >podium with Hammer and Chandler!
> I think you mean Hammett, don't you?
It was Hammett… It's a typo, hoping it's not to be explained by the Freudian theories of lapsus linguae
(even if here it was more of a lapsus calami by its form).

> But Ross Macdonald a second rank writer?
> Uninvolving? Maybe his books
> lose something in the journey overseas, but for a
> certain generation
> (or maybe just a certain age), Macdonald's books hit
> a nerve. I think
> we discussed this before, how many of us seem to
> fall in love with
> Macdonald's work at the same age, somewhere around
> our late teens,
> early twenties? That period where we're all trying
> to come to terms
> with our screwed up families? In some ways, and I'm
> sure I'm not the
> first to suggest it, Lew Archer is the ultimate
> father figure in
> detective fiction. Or maybe it's just me. Though I
> do think people
> tend to take his books personally.

I have to thank you Kevin for bringing this discussion, and confrontation of point of views, on an interesting ground by your remarks about age. I agree with you: personal perception of readings depends strongly on the age of the reader. This could be a part of the explanation about our different ways to perceive R MD's novels. I red Ross Macdonald rather late compared to other authors (that was end of the 60's- even if I most probably red one of two of his novels before, but they were probaly hacked translations and I do not remember them clearly, not even something negative about them- but my judgment is not based on these earlier experiences).

I will even add that most of the time the quality and amount of readings experienced previously by the reader will have even a bigger impact. And that's a more difficult factor to assess and "measure"… It seems that some works of fiction have such high qualities, that re-reading them at different ages does not affect our judgement about their value (maybe just modify it by finding other angles, another richness that probably was less visible on previous readings). And on the other hand some others will be badly judged, even asking to ourselves how it was that we could have been impressed by them at an earlier stage of our life. I am a strong believer that (unless it was juvenile stuff) your judgement becomes better because you were exposed to better works and red maybe better authors. In one word: experience… But the works surviving our re-readings are most probably the good ones. As well as those you discover and consider as first class works later, after a longer experience as a reader…

Even if some works cross the oceans with great difficulties, I think that experience of reading will have a higher impact than difference of cultures
(inside the Western culture) on the way someone will judge a novel - especially of the HB/Noir genre as these novels carry a significance greater than any
"regionalism" you could find in their set up. The genre works more on "universal" values like life and death, corruption, justice, quest for individual values… etc than plot articulations or settings. Even if these values are often more implicit than openly discussed in the novels….

> I've always contended hard-boiled is mostly about
> attitude or tone,
> more than a mere setting or a plot device.
  I totally agree with this point of view.. See my above sentence about "universalism".

Also, I like to think of HB/Noir as the illegal offspring of behaviorism and existentialism...

E.Borgers Hard-Boiled Mysteries

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