I never thought that I would be one to love reading detective novels. Sherlock Holmes comes to mind, the author James Patterson, to name a few. They always follow the same formula. There’s a good guy and a bad guy (though, sometimes the who-is-who, is not always established from the beginning) and there is a crime that was committed that needs to be solved. I am also not a fan of the main-stream novels, you know the ones that everyone reads by those authors that just seem to be able to crank out an innumerable amount of stories. When I was younger I was envious towards them. I couldn’t understand how they were able to write so much when I had trouble finishing most of the things that I started. As I read more and more of these novels though, I came to realize that I didn’t envy them after all. Their bodies of work were plentiful, but they were mediocre at best. They were all practically the same with slight variations. If you’ve read a few books by any of these authors, you’ve read them all. I realized then that I didn’t want to be one of those writers; I’d rather spend half my life cranking out one great story than to mindlessly author many.
That was when I became a book snob. Aside from reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which was widely popular in its day and truly brilliant, I set out to read novels that weren’t so well known or read. I can pretty much guarantee that if you were to name all of the books on the most popular list of the moment, I have maybe read one. Not to say that they are terrible and should not be read, I just feel that there are more that are far better that are hardly known.
When I was in college, out of all of the English classes that I took, there were only two that I loved. They were both very different in their content and approaches to learning, but they both gave me something that, had I never taken them, I might never have discovered that I loved. The first was a class on Victorian literature. There, I learned that that was my favorite time period of literature. I loved reading the long descriptive paragraphs about life back then; just the way that the words were used; I cannot to this day find anything as appealing to me. The second one, entitled simply Dreams, I loved far more. The literature in that class wasn’t focused on a specific time period, but rather pairing great works of fiction with dream theorists and of course Freud was there. Instantly I fell in love with Freud. I didn’t necessarily agree with most of what he wrote, but it was the way he wrote them. The novel that I am currently reading, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, is a leftover from that class that has been sitting on my bookshelf for a few years. It’s a psychological mystery, which I will go into at length when I have finished it.
It was in that Victorian literature class that I came upon the first detective novel ever written, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. It is told through multiple narrators, where the reader learns little bits and pieces until finally the conclusion comes. Who knew that with one great work of fiction, a whole genre would be spawned. Although most people may not have heard of him, we all have Collins to thank for this.
Another thing to know about my book snobbiness is that I am not a fan of American literature. There are a few pieces that I do love, for example F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, most of American literature I find boring.
A few years back, a friend of mine at work handed me Tana French’s debut novel, In the Woods. He loved books just as much as I did and with the exception of a few that I couldn’t focus on enough to sit through, he hadn’t steered me wrong. In the Woods is of course a psychological mystery (aka a modern phrase for the detective novel, a sub-genre if you will). It starts off with a group of kids that went into the woods surrounding their community one night and only one of the three made it back. The other two disappeared, never to be seen again. Jump forward decades into the present and that one kid works on the murder squad and there is a murder in those very same woods. French is brilliant at creating this energy that really grips the reader insofar as to clench at your core. When the main characters were overcome with sadness, I cried…when they were scared out of their wits, I screamed. Needless to say that when I found out that Tana French had come out with a second novel, I flew to the bookstore and purchased it immediately; the same went for when she came out with her third.
I have never had a story effect me so much as I did with Ms. French’s. I would literally come home from work and plop myself on the couch, staying up way past the time that I should have, just to read her words. I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, my heart pounding rapidly in my chest and my body in a cold sweat, turning all of the lights on in my apartment because my mind had continued to subconsciously circulate the passages that I had just read. The same thing would happen the next night and the next until I had finished each novel. I laughed at myself for having such a strong reaction.
The other two of Tana French’s novels are entitled The Likeness and Faithful Place. These, along with In the Woods, are brilliant works of fiction that should be read. I am anxiously awaiting her fourth novel, which has yet to surface. Did I mention the French is an Irish author?