Sunday, August 11, 2013

William McIlvanney: "Like a suitcase with doors"

When is comes to setting a scene, William McIlvanney has a way of doing what a hundred other crime writers have done worse.

How many crime writers have created single, divorced, or recently split-up police officers or detectives? How many of those writers have given those maritally troubled officers a messy house or apartment as an objective correlative of the character's troubled emotional state? The number is incalculable.

Here's how McIlvanney sets such a scene in The Papers of Tony Veitch, second of his three great Laidlaw novels, now rereleased by Canongate:
"(H)e recognized the inimitable decor of Milligan's poky flat, a kind of waiting room baroque.

"The walls were dun and featureless, the furniture was arranged with all the homeyness of a second-hand sale room and clothes were littered everywhere. It wasn't a room so much as a suitcase with doors."
There's more to McIlvanney than a Chandlerian flair for metaphors, of course, his empathy for all his characters, for one, and his sharp, wry, affectionate portraits of Glasgow life, for another. But the metaphors help. They make McIlvanney's novels into verbal champagne, and they say old things in fresh hew ways. And that's where you come in, readers. What crime or other writers render hoary, obligatory scenes in such fresh and clever ways that they almost make you forget the scenes are hoary and obligatory?
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(Browse some previous McIlvanney posts at Detectives Beyond Borders. Click the link, then scroll down.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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5 Comments:

Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

"It wasn't a room so much as a suitcase with doors."
You're right Peter, that's an image to envy...

August 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

McIlvanney is absolutely one of the best. And his images are striking without bring obtrusive. If you have not read the Laidlaw books, you ought to.

August 11, 2013  
Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

Will check the earlier posts. Thanks for the recommendation.

August 12, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I need to rearrange my to-read list. I can't think of anything I've read lately that's been beautifully written.

August 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, much of McIlvanney is beautifully written all right, and the man can tell a story, too. About the worst I can say about him is that he'll sometimes get a just a bit self-conscious. But you know what that does? That might mean a slight filing down of the fifth point of the fifth star in a a five-star rating. He's worth moving to the top of anyone's list.

August 15, 2013  

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