Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Writing the Thoughts of Others

   It’s wonderful when authors, especially younger ones, step outside themselves.
   In her new novel, Broken Harbor, Tana French’s main character is Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, a detective on the Dublin, Ireland murder squad. Kennedy is an older, hard-bitten and sometimes reflective cop. Early in the book he does some cranky old guy commentary. Here’s part of it:
   “I remember this country back when I was growing up. We went to church, we ate family suppers around the table . . . we all knew exactly where we stood and we didn’t break the rules lightly.  If that sounds like small stuff to you, if it sounds boring or old-fashioned or uncool, think about this: people smiled at strangers, people said hello to neighbours, people left their doors unlocked and helped old women with their shopping bags, and the murder rate was scraping zero. Sometime since then, we started turning feral. Wild got into the air like a virus, and it’s spreading. Watch the packs of kids roaming inner-city estates, mindless and brakeless as baboons, looking for something or someone to wreck. Watch the businessmen shoving past pregnant women for a seat on the train, using their 4x4s to force smaller cars out of their way, purple-faced and outraged when the world dares to contradict them. Watch the teenagers throw screaming stamping tantrums when, for once, they can’t have it the second they want it. Everything that stops us being animals is eroding, washing away like sand, going and gone.”
   Crowds of people, mainly older folks, share Scorcher Kennedy’s feelings. What’s exciting is that a writer, not yet 40 years old, is able and willing to deliver social commentary not expected from her own generation. That’s what makes a winning writer: the ability to gather and transmit the thoughts of different groups of people.
   French is a powerhouse descriptive writer. Her descriptions are fresh and alive - planets away from most of today’s murder mystery fiction. I didn’t find her first novel, Into the Woods, all that memorable but that might just be me. Her ability as a writer, and her growing popularity, are beyond question.
   That’s a wonderful thing considering the illiterate junk, like Fifty Shades of Crap or whatever it’s called, now dominating the book markets.