Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jakob Arjouni's devices

Readers here and elsewhere have noted his occasional reliance on noir and hard-boiled cliches. One man's cliche is another man's device, however, and Arjouni makes rather exciting use of one such device at the beginning of his novel and still Drink More (Also published under the title More Beer). A series of newspaper headlines and excerpts lays the background for the story's main action: the murder of a chemical-plant executive, and the accusations that four members of a radical ecological group carried out the killing.

In a little over two pages, Arjouni takes the reader from:

Rhein Main Farben to Open Plant in Vogelsberg
Two Hundred Thousand Demonstrators Expected ...

to

No Incidents At Laying of Foundation Stone
of Rhein Main Farben Plant in Vogelsberg
Former Mayor of Frankfurt Appointed President
of United Nations Environmental Security Council

Along the way are such items as: Frankfurt Mayor's Wife Confirms She Is Rhein Main Farben Shareholder.

It's a neat, economical and exciting piece of scene-setting.

P.S. The jacket of my edition notes that Arjouni's protagonist is "reminiscent of Sam Spade and Philip Marlow." I trust the publisher restored the dropped e in subsequent printings.

© Peter Rozovsky 2006

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Stuart said...

No Incidents At Laying of Foundation Stone
of Rhein Main Farben Plant in Vogelsberg

Why do writers commit these solecisms? No headline wrriter would be allowed to get away with Arjouni's headline above. It is a non-journalist's idea of a headline. It reminds me of the classic joke headline SMALL EARTHQUAKE IN CHILE – FEW DEAD.

Try reading newspapers before you try writing headlines, Mr Arjouni.

October 05, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for your comment. I have written headlines for a living for twenty years, and I am tickled that you take issue with a bad one. You could fill in for me at work some week.

In this case, though, the fault may be mine for presenting Arjouni's headlines in isolation. His short opening chapter is a series of newspaper headlines and ledes, essentially building up to the possibility that the ceremony at the plant could be explosively violent. In that context, a headline that says NOTHING HAPPENS not only makes sense, but is an effective climax. Whether Arjouni was subtle enough to use a deliberately bad headline for good dramatic effect, I don't know, but it worked here.

Thanks again. It does my heart good to know there are some discerning newspaper readers out there.

October 05, 2006  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

That dropped "e" in Marlow definitely grates with me.
Raymond Chandler was a pupil at my old school Dulwich College in South London. The public fee paying school [I got a scholarship]dates from Tudor/Stuart times and the school houses are named after famous characters of the time.

Drake, Sidney, Grenville, Spenser, Raleigh and Marlowe.

Therefore the spelling of Marlowe from playwright Christopher Marlowe.
Robert Parker also named his detective Spenser in homage to Chandler, I suspect.

October 06, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

I've seen that misspelling elsewhere. It's an easy mistake to make -- in casual usage. There is no excuse for letting it into print.

South London? For some reason I thought Dulwich was further out.

I think Dulwich has quite a picture gallery, too. I remember wanting to visit there to look at one particular painting, perhaps a Poussin.

October 06, 2006  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

No, Dulwich is right in the heart of South London only about 7 miles from Baker Street, but it was a green oasis within the city.
You could walk if you were feeling energetic from where I lived through Dulwich Village past the picture gallery to the college.
I drove past the college a few weeks ago, and it has not changed in over 40 years.

October 06, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Hmm, perhaps I can pay it a visit the next time I'm in London -- in a couple of weeks.

October 06, 2006  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Information from the picture gallery site.
If you don't have a car the best way to reach the gallery is by train ,11 minutes from Victoria to West Dulwich Station.
Twice an hour from platforms 1-8 at 23 and 53 minutes past the hour.
Turn right out of station and take first left up Gallery Road. The gallery is on the right not more than 15 min walk they say.

Giving you these directions brings back memories, and I could do the walk in 5 minutes, but I was about 17 then.

October 06, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the directions! Now I'll have to do some research on the gallery to try to remember which painting I wanted to see. That gallery and Kenwood House (home of a late Rembrandt self-portrait) are the two remaining galleries on my London list that I haven't been to yet.

October 06, 2006  

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