Laura Thompson’s Daily Telegraph article, Emma and the detectives, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9672296/Emma-and-the-detectives.html today poses the question ‘Is crime the new literary fiction?’, in advance of tonight’s Kings Place debate on the topic. Having considered whether crime fiction provides contemporary relevance (Of course, some of it does!), Laura Thompson moves to her central thesis, that it is the superior entertainment value that causes its popularity, rather than its presentation of life in today’s world. Daringly, she offers this: “I would go so far as to say that, in a sense, all novels should aspire to the condition of crime writing: that the genre showcases what is desirable, even necessary, in a book.” To which I should reply, “If any novel is good, it will inevitably contain features characteristic of good literature; its genre is irrelevant.”
She goes on to cite Emma as a literary example of a crime novel; I have no argument with this self-evident truth. What worries me is that she goes on to say: “At the end of the book, when Emma realises, ‘with the speed of an arrow, that Mr Knightley must marry no one but herself’, the solution has all the satisfying ‘Oh, of course!’ that one gets when a murderer is identified.” Perhaps my reading of Emma is different, but Laura Thompson might like to consider that the ‘speed of an arrow’ moment is in fact the ultimate irony for alert readers who have guessed this outcome almost from the beginning of the book.
I agree with her about the entertainment value of crime fiction; however, what for me makes the best crime fiction makes the best fiction: plot, characterisation, mood, setting, suspense and to crown the lot, fine use of language.
I’m sure that a great deal of good sense will be talked tonight.