Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hugo Hamilton's Headbanger

I called Hugo Hamilton's 1997 Dublin novel Headbanger "a bit literary in its opening pages," by which I meant it was at times a bit too conscious of its own cleverness, trying too hard to make a plot point.

But those moments are few, and the novel does what crime novels rarely do: It confronts the reality that most crime writers and readers are not killers or victims. Headbanger's Pat Coyne, a Dublin cop, wages small fights and dreams of glory for an imaginary audience, but does what he has to do when the situation demands, "driven by a new mood of optimism and complete fearlessness."

Throughout, Hamilton maintains a nice balance between gravity and comedy, or, to put it another way, he sees the humor in Coyne's fight without, however, belittling it. After hoods kidnap and threaten Hamilton's wife, we get:
"Coyne hesitated. They just abducted her and took her to the Phoenix Park. Subjected her to inhuman and degrading treatment.

"Like what? Molly demanded ...

"They made her perform Riverdance. She needs protection, Frank."
 It might not surprise readers to learn that Headbanger pays explicit tribute to Flann O'Brien and that, like O'Brien, Coyne had a father who waged a brave, futile fight to educate him solely in Irish. I suspect that, having visited Ireland just twice and Dublin once, and being no expert in the country's literature, I may have missed much in this book. But what I got is touching and funny, and you should get it, too.
    "Krzyzewski is already urging ACC officials to start contemplating what they need to do to avoid other leagues from poaching ACC schools."
— Aaron Beard, Associated Press Basketball Writer

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Blogger Unknown said...

Memo to Beard: Perhaps you should avoid prepositional phrases. Try writing that sentence without them. You will learn something useful.

Weirdness for the day: The anti-spam robot includes the house/street number of my boyhood home.

Regarding so-called literary writing: There is either good writing or lousy writing. No other label matters.

April 01, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's the "avoid ... from" that made me go slack-jawed with disbelief. Any writer on deadline or in a fit of absent-mindedness could make such a mistake. But this was in a story that the Associated Press sent out on the wire, deeming it thereby fit for publication. The AP has, has I suspected, joined that list of publishers that regard copy editing as a luxury easily dispensed with in these tight times.

You are right about so-called literary writing. So, what stylistic traits did I have in mind in this case? On the negative side, obtrusive efforts to link consecutive sections of the book (a section about one character's interest in painting, for example, followed by a section whose opening talks about the aesthetics of police work).

On the postive side, a flair for action that seems to flow naturally from the characters rather than being slapped onto the page to keep the story moving.

As for significant verification words, the end of this post concerns itself with bad writing, and my v-word includes the letters sucks.

April 01, 2013  
Blogger Unknown said...

I also balked at the "avoid...from" construction. My suggestion about prepositional phrases will force Beard to avoid such constructions.

April 01, 2013  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ever since "The Iliad," writers have wrestled with action "scenes." So, you see, there really is nothing new under the sun, and when contemporary writers or critics lay claim to singularity or innovation, I remain suspicious. (See David Foster's denunciation of "action scenes" in James Fenimore Cooper in his latest book that focuses on 25 American books. That should persuade you.)

April 01, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The writer probably confused "avoid" and "prevent from," and the AP probably trasmitted the result unedited.

I'd likely have written "to keep other leagues from poaching." "To stop other leagues poaching" would sate your anti-prepositionism but would sound more British than American. "Avoid...from" is simply misuse of avoid.

April 01, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, I don't denounce action scenes. How could I, reading as much crime fiction as I do? But in Headbanger, such scenes are more, er, driven by character.

April 01, 2013  

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