Monday, May 29, 2006

Thoughts on late style

Sort of: you know how writers who get really successful often end up producing these books that are like strange unedited self-parody? I've just read two, both very enjoyable though. The first was the insane Patricia Cornwell's latest Scarpetta novel, Predator (Nico brought it for a house-rewarming present, we share an obsession with Cornwelliana). The first few in that series were so good, and then they got all crazed and paranoid and high-tech (though the anthrax threats in the months following September 11, 2001 made me feel retroactively that I had been too hard on the one where she's got those smallpox aerosol thingies, can't remember what it was called), and then--much worse--she moved to writing them in this third-person present-tense voice that moves waywardly from one point-of-view character to another and that is definitely not a good thing. But I found this one better than the last couple, it's got a very intense mood and all of the demented stuff we've come to expect (lesbian bar pickups! main character gets brain tumor! Marino yet again with completely different personality and physique than in previous iterations!); it's got a Cornwell-on-acid kind of feel, none of it really makes sense and yet she gets that insane paranoid mood so right.

The other was the long-awaited Wicked! from Jilly Cooper, which I just finished with great pleasure and yet of course it is not really a very good book (and it includes flippant and politically incorrect handling of race stuff & also pedophilia that is frankly bizarre). The book's politics can be summed up in this sentence (Emlyn is the Welsh history teacher, love interest for Janna who's the feisty young headmistress of the failing school which offers the main plot--of course I like it that it's set in a school!): "Brought up to loathe the Tories, it confused Emlyn that, for some ulterior motive, it was Tories who were coming to Janna's aid and New Labour in their sharp suits, quite unrecognizable from his dad's beloved cloth-cap party, who'd palled up with the beige, open-toed-sandalled Lib Dems to grind the faces of the poor." (This book follows closely on the "Will Venturer get the TV franchise?" model from that earlier one....)

Herewith a few more samples of the inimitable Jilly Cooper style. In the first one, the delinquents from the comprehensive are having their first encounter with the posh public-school kids at Bagley:

Feral, to appear more menacing, had, like Paris and Graffi, left up the hood of his black tracksuit. Then he clocked the three Bagley Babes, who looked as though they'd been fed on peaches and fillet steak all their lives, who had glossy hair cascading from side partings to below their boobs and gym-honed bodies in cobalt-blue tracksuits and pale ochre T-shirts, which evoked the sea and sand of endless holidays.

Peaches and fillet steak--it's not really good descriptive writing at all and yet there's something so appealing....

Here's a funny description of another Bagley pupil (and the book is filled with flippant but also somehow quite heartfelt quotations and literary inclusions, including the inevitable joint school production of Romeo and Juliet):

Anatole was in fact very clever and loved Pushkin, Lermontov and Shakespeare as much as vodka and Marlboro Lights.

And here's another one of Emlyn, this is pretty much exactly the Cooper style in a nutshell (all characters are sex-mad and fairly beautiful or else quite revolting if they are villains):

Hands shoved into his pockets, he showed off a surprisingly taut, high, beautiful bottom. He had terrific shoulders too and the bulldog face had charm if you liked bulldogs. Janna longed to throw herself into his arms and tell him how Ashton and Crispin had warned her off. Instead she said, 'I've got a school to save.'

I am not sure that these sentences really conjure up the book's undeniable charms, but I really did enjoy it very much & in fact I think I will make an offer, I want someone else to read it & enjoy it after I paid for that wretched Amazon UK shipping and all: if you would like it, drop me an e-mail at jmd204 at columbia dot edu with your regular mailing address and I will send it to you, I like my books to go to a good home where they will be enjoyed....

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I used to read Cornwell and eagerly look forward to her next. But they just got so wooden, I began to find them very dreary, and other authors have taken over her niche, doing it better, I think. Not Kathy Reichs, also very popular but whom I don't like either, but Karin Slaughter and Tess Gerritson are both authors whose latest books I jump on straight away.

    I agree PC has also gone insane, all that boyfriend dead or not stuff (I got to the point where I could not remember which of the two FBI-type characters Kay was involved with between books, they were all so cardboard), and as for Marino, you are dead right, PC just can't seem to work out what she wants to do with him.

    As I have probably said before, I used to enjoy James Patterson, particularly the Alex Cross series, but for some time now they have just been appalling. I don't read them any more.

    I did read and enjoy Jilly Cooper a very long time ago, but I stopped about 6 novels ago. I can't remember why. But I don't much go for all those romantic dippy books. My dad (who is 80! and very literary) loves Cooper so perhaps I should go back to her in light of all these people of good judgment who like her. I think Grumpy Old B has just posted on her too but as I have the memory of a gnat I have forgotten whether pro or anti. He liked Fingersmith, though!