Thursday, March 26, 2009

One more word about Two Murders ...

Josef Škvorecký's novel Two Murders in My Double Life, a subject of discussion here in recent days, would make interesting fodder for a debate about crime fiction and mainstream or "serious" fiction.

The double life of the title refers to the narrator's current life as a professor at a Canadian university and his past as writer sucked into a labyrinth of betrayal and squalor in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia.

"North America leads, by a wide margin, in the worldwide statistics of murder," Škvorecký writes in a short introduction, "but North Americans have never experienced total crime. In Europe and Asia, millions of people fell victim to it, many millions in large countries, but it is not only the body that is murdered by this mega-assassin, it is the soul: the character of the community called a nation. However, one can hardly write a murder mystery about the assassination of souls. That's why the Edenvale [College] story has all the paraphernalia of the guilty vicarage, but the Prague sequence of events lacks them entirely. It characters, as the narrator says, are not in a detective story written for the entertainment of the reader, but in a very serious novel."
Lest a reader be tempted to think that a put-down of the detective story, consider that Škvorecký devoted an entire book of fiction, Sins for Father Knox, to affectionate engagement with detective stories, absurdity and all.

So, while perhaps few crime writers engage themselves with matters as serious as Škvorecký's, the man is willing to have fun, too, and I get the feeling that he regards this as a task of high importance.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Blogger Linkmeister said...

The sentiment instantly brings to my mind Stalin's remark: "One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic."

March 26, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...


I take his point but its plain wrong in at least three ways. First that North America murder rate remark is a bit vague isnt it? Shouldnt one separate Canada the US and Mexico? Mexico's murder rate is higher now that the US rate. Second its still a Eurobiased and bogus claim. The murder rate in South Africa is much higher than America. Papua New Guinea's murder rate is so high no one even knows what it is. Who can say what the murder rates are like in the Congo etc. Yes the US has a high murder rate but its nowhere near the top of the tree. Its perceived to be high, especially in Europe because of American movies and TV.
Thirdly, he's wrong about total war and the destruction of the soul. Sherman's March through Georgia was precisely about annihilating an entire culture, about killing thousands of people, about ending a way of life. (I think he forgot about the Civil War). Also we could mention the Indian Wars which had their fare share of killing.

March 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, elsewhere in this novel or else in the book of his that I just read, Skoverky has a character remark that it was Stalin who pronounced that a writer ought to be an engineer of human souls.

March 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I'll grant you the third point and make excuses for the first two. J.S. wrote the book before the recent spike in Mexican violence. And I may have been remiss in referring to an introduction. In fact, it was from a little section called "Before the story begins." This gives the author license to speak in the persona of his narrator, I think, and part of that persona is that of an exile, albeit voluntary, from communism, who is left somewhat at sea after the Soviet Union's collapse and is also occasionally mystified and amused by his new country.

March 27, 2009  

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