Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Declan Burke's Job search

Over at Crime Always Pays, Declan Burke highlights three readers' assessments of his novel Slaughter's Hound. The three discussions read, in part, thus:
“This is a dark tale, and it gets progressively darker as it goes along.”  
 “This novel is a tragedy, which takes place in a town called Sligo, a location that could be Thebes or any other place in the world where the frailties of good men and women are exploited by the eternal cynics and they become the playthings of the gods ... the hero’s every good intention or action goes wrong, and Harry Rigby reminds you at times of Job and at other times of Oedipus.”  
“SLAUGHTER’S HOUND is yet another ‘How the hell does he do that?’ offering from author Declan Burke.” 
Not bad, eh?

Burke himself cites his debt to Horace Kallen's The Book of Job as a Greek Tragedy. I have no philosophical weight to add to that considerable discussion, but I will note that Burke sustains the serious tone without abandoning the wisecracking that has been a hallmark of his previous books. And the wisecracks never clash with the prevailing seriousness. It's as if Burke had taken a cheerful musical theme, then rendered it in a minor key. And it works.
"To date we'd had nearly a feel of sunny days and mild nights, and the sunset earlier on had been a ruddy shepherd's weight. Which meant it'd be a bright, warm and beautiful morning when I told Herb his cab was a write-off, this courtesy of Finn, his flaky fuck du jour."
and
"I knocked the stereo off and drove on. Shuddering from a bad case of the grace of Gods and but fors."
are just two examples of the sort of balance (or reconciliation) Burke maintains between the tragic and the funny. I've read the book before, and I'm reading it again, and I say that it can't be easy for a novelist to be so in control of his material and so aware of what he wants to do that he can maintain a tone so consistently. Good job.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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17 Comments:

Blogger Michael Malone said...

Ach, you're a clever man, Declan. Looking forward to reading this.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Among other things, thanks to Declan, I may Dip dip dip dip dip dip dip dip, Mum mum mum mum mum mum, read the Book of Job.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Alas, my local library has only one of Burke's books--and it ain't this one, which is too bad because there comparison to Job and Oedipus intrigues me.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Oops! "the" comparison, not "there" comparison. Warning: dunce on the keyboard!

December 05, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

PS. Is Eightball Boogie a good starting point for entering Burke's fictional world? It is the only locally available title, and--alas--as an underpaid Wackford Squeers, I must carefully manage by book buying budget.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger Dana King said...

I've been a fan since I read THE BIG O a few years ago. SLAUGHTER'S HOUND is a showing of not just how good he is now, but how good he might become, as well.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., this one's pretty new, and I'm not sure what its publication status is in the U.S. It's worth a flyer via e-reader if you've gone down that dark path.

I have retrieved my copy of the Book of Job, possibly the only book of the Bible in which, according to some scholars, the producers tacked on a happy ending.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., here’s what I wrote about Eightball Boogie a few years ago. I think Burke calls Slaughter's Hound a sequel to that book, so it would not be a bad place to start. I liked it lots.

I think, though, that he got more ambitious with Absolute Zero Cool and Slaughter's Hound.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I, too, have been a fan since I read The Big O. But how many crime writers do you know who get more ambitious and who try new things with each book? Our man Declan does, especially in his two most recent.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

Ah, the Book of Job as tragicomedy. Samuel Beckett would have written it if he had been around then. It is also interesting that by many accounts, the Book of Job and Sophocles' Oedipus the King are nearly contemporary in terms of their "debuts." This must say something about the Mediterranean cultures' shared view of fates and man v. the deity.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., Robert Alter's introduction to his translation of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes has some interesting compare-and-contrast between Greek philosophy and biblical wisdom literature -- and also about the latter's common Near Eastern roots.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

I apologize for straying so far from the original posting--with specific apologies to Declan Burke--but I would like to add that Stephen Mitchell's translation of The Book of Job is a first-class literary effort, praised also by Robert Alter, a wide-respected translator of Hebrew texts. All of this discussion about Job is sending back to that text (instead of Burke's books), and tomorrow will take me to the campus library for a copy of Alter's translation. Thanks, Peter.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Blame Declan Burke; he's the one who started all this Job-Greek stuff.

I wrote about Stephen Mitchell's "Gilgamesh" here some time back. He appears to have prepared versions of classics from a number of languages. I wonder how many are his own translations, and how many are renderings or updatings of ealier translations.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

In the case of Hebrew, Stephen Mitchell, as I understand his process, works directly from the Hebrew. So, his version of The Book of Job is not a revision of other translations but a new translation based on the original. I say this based on Robert Alter's assessment of Mitchell's work.

How Mitchell also manages to come up with English versions of Rilke, the Tao Te Ching, and other "foreign" texts is beyond me, especially as I can barely handle English.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Right. His name is attached to translations from such disparate languages that I wonder if he acts as translator from all. Also, the searches turn up references to his "versions" rather than his "translations." I seem vaguely to recall that his "Gilgamesh," which I quite liked, goes out of the way to specify that it is not a fresh translation, though I could be wrong.

December 05, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

RT, I think you should read Eightball Boogie first anyway. It's not that you have to read it for Slaughter's Hound, but they're definitely connected and Slaughter's Hound would give a lot of spoilers for the first.

You can buy Slaughter's Hound in the U.S., but you probably won't see it in bookstores other than ones where someone already knows about the author because they don't have a big publisher behind them here. It's on the pricey side vs. U.S. trade paperbacks, but worth the investment.

December 06, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., Seana is one of those three commenters who appear on Declan's post. Go to his blog, and link from there to Seana's post. You'll find what she has to say interesting, I think.

December 06, 2012  

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