Saturday, February 23, 2008

Jo Nesbø on alcohol

Once upon a time, I posted some comments about middle-aged loner detectives. That led me to the inevitable thoughts about genre conventions and how an author adheres to them.

I found out how one writer handled this question thanks to an interview with Jo Nesbø (and a big, fat hat tip to Euro Crime for pointing the way). Here's what Nesbø had to say about one of the generic traits of such detectives:

"From the outset I knew that the main character had to have an Achilles heel, an inner demon, to ensure that he not only experiences tension outside, but on the inside, too. And that was to be alcoholism. But I didn't want the standard, cliché, American hard-boiled detective ... (w)ith a cool thirst. This had to be uncool thirst with alcoholism as his kryptonite. He is derailed by it."

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Blogger Lauren said...

Well, one of my pet peeves is the detective who drinks like a fish yet suffers no apparent ill effects. So for that reason I'm rather fond of both Mankell, who gives Wallender diabetes (his drinking varies from book to book, but is chronic at one point), and Colin Dexter, who took Morse's drinking and general lack of care for his health past diabetes to its logical conclusion.

In TV-land, the final Prime Suspect also had an interesting spin on drinking.

February 25, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I guess the drinking with no side effects came from the early American hard-boiled writers. As it happens, the world-champion drinkers in this category, Dashiell Hammett's Nick and Nora Charles, did their drinking as a kind of joke, so the lack of realism never bothered me much.

Another interesting spin on the alcoholic detective Omar Youssef, the protagonist of Matt Rees' two novels, The Collaborator of Bethlehem and A Grave in Gaza. Youssef has long since given up drinking but thinks often about his former overindulgence and the effects that it had and still has.

February 25, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of genre and cliche, I'd like to hear what you have to say about Michael Chabon's Myths and Legends. He says we've ghettoized mystery novels to the back of the bookstore, and much, much more. Just thought you might be interested.

April 14, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

To the back of the bookstore, or to an upper level, which amounts to something similar.

I've just spent four days with authors, publishers and editors of noir and a few more days listening to interviews with them, so perhaps I'm more sensitive to the ghettoization question that I was before. Insofar as discussions sought to define noir socially, they tended toward notions such as subversion and breaking boundaries. But one author/editor who is also a student of British Romantic poetry suggested that just as that poetry sought to speak the way real people spoke, so does good noir writing. That's a provocative notion, I think, and it suggests that Chabon may be right. But I'll have to read the book first, so thanks for your comment.

April 14, 2008  

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