Jean-Claude Izzo's "Total Chaos": Music and Poetry
A few notes before a full-scale comment in the next day or two:
1) Too many noirish writers these days use a protagonist's musical tastes as shorthand for his or her state of mind. I'm not sure when writers started doing this in a big way; maybe Ian Rankin's John Rebus popularized it, with his taste for the Rolling Stones. In any case, the device has become a cliche, and it can seem cheap. You know, the author is too lazy to write how his hero feels like a boozy piece of crap, so he types the words "Tom Waits" and feels that he's done his job. (I wonder if writers picked this up from the by-now stereotypical moody saxophone soundtrack of countless crime movies and TV shows.)
Two things set Izzo apart from this group. The first is that his Fabio Montale's musical tastes are better and more varied than those of most modern noir protagonists. He listens to Paco de Lucia and lots of Michel Petrucciani, for example. French singers. Italian singers. Other characters listen to Marseillais rap or to rai. This music is different enough that it serves as a real character marker and mood setter rather than just an easy label.
The second is a frequent poignance of presentation. Montale hears music coming from another room or from inside an apartment. Outside, he muses on the music and the person playing it, and on his separation from her. This, I think, contributes to the sense of wistfulness and fatalism that some have seen in the trilogy.
2) There's poetry here. Characters recite it, read it, talk about it, reminisce about it. The poetry is usually intense and romantic, and so is the effect. In only one scene does the poetry seem an affectation, because there is too little poetry, and too much talk about poetry. I felt torn from the novel's fictional world and plunked down in a lecture from Izzo about what he liked. When reading a novel, I care nothing for the author, everything for the characters.
© Peter Rozovsky 2006