A new book shows there's life in an old literary form
Downey's book Yours Confidentially, published earlier this year, is not only cast in another old literary form, that of the novel written in letters, but it also captures something of the moralizing spirit of 18th-century classics of the form. I'm no scholar of the epistolary novel, but I do know that such classics as Samuel Richardson's Clarissa and Pamela and such burlesques as Henry Fielding's Shamela are characterized by introspection, moralizing and, in the burlesques, satire.
Here, Downey's subject is, as always, the hilarious world of post-Troubles Northern Irish politics, and the mood is, as always, high comedy. Once I've got a bit of sleep, I may return with some samples. But what most impresses me so far is the earnestness and introspection some of the letters. Take this, from the randy Catholic politician Shay Gallagher to the randy Protestant politician Sue McEwan, who is also his fiancée, after opponents begin leaking stories and rumors about Shay's pre-engagement romantic life:
"I am terribly, terribly sorry about all this and the embarrassment it causes you and Danielle – and even your mother. By way of excuse, all I can say is that up until Uncle Shay died six years ago, I never imagined that I'd spend my life as anything but a private citizen. And I behaves as such."Quite apart from the high jinks and shenanigans revealed slowly in the other letters, I find that sentiment touchingly open and worthy of an eighteenth-century rake with a good heart. I was tempted to guess that Downey concentrated on literature in university, but he has captured the spirit of several types of story too well to have actually studied them. There is nothing of the deadening hand of the A-grade English major here.
Here's your question: Garbhan Downey has captured the forms and moods of Shakespearean comedy and 18th-century English epistolary novels. Elsewhere, I find echoes of the Odyssey and of Dante in Adrian McKinty 's Michael Forsythe novels. What other contemporary crime writers have recast or found inspiration in old literary forms?
© Peter Rozovsky 2008