Saturday, September 16, 2023

[Link] Stepping Into Raymond Chandler’s Shoes Showed Me the Power of Fiction

by Denise Mina

“The Second Murderer” is the first Philip Marlowe book written by a woman. Me.

Marlowe is, of course, the most famous creation of Raymond Chandler, perhaps the most famous of American crime novelists. Reading Chandler was always a guilty pleasure of mine, his vision of 1930s Los Angeles unfolding vividly for me all the way in cold and rainy Glasgow. On the one hand, there is his glorious writing, his blue-collar heroes and the occasional profound observations about the human experience. But there’s also his liberal use of racial slurs, his portrayal of people of color and homosexuals as grotesque caricatures and the fact that his work is suffused with misogyny. It takes a strong stomach to read a story in which a woman needs a slap to calm her down.

Crime fiction was, and is, anti-feminist. That’s why I chose to write it in the first place.

Traditionally, women never had agency in crime fiction, and when I started out I wanted to try to shift the dial, casting in with a movement that already counted such lights as Sara Paretsky, Marcia Talley, Mary Wings and Val McDermid. The way I saw it, crime fiction was the new social novel, wrapped in a genre that already seemed to be reaching a wide audience of largely female readers.

The knock on commercial fiction is that it’s often written so quickly that it tends to simply mirror, for good or ill, the social mores of the time that produced it. Chandler may have been a misogynist, but he definitely lived in misogynist times, and his fiction reflects that. When values change or views become more enlightened, these kind of books tend to age poorly. Sometimes this aging-out happens quite suddenly: How tired the endless copaganda procedurals seem now; how tone-deaf the books that end with the police justifiably shooting a suspect to death. The tsunami of books featuring women with faulty memories cannot be read in the same way since the #MeToo movement or in the context of changing attitudes about sexual violence and child abuse. Overnight, yesterday’s resilient trope seems hopelessly offensive, even dangerous.

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