Birmingham,The Stirrer, Black Country

news that matters, campaigns that count

for Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond

Laurence Inman’s Blog



La Brava

Never mind the serious heavyweights of literature. Whatever happened to reading for pleasure asks Laurence Inman?

I came to Literature (with a big L) at a time when F.R.Leavis and his disciples held universal sway.

You couldn’t just enjoy a book when I was a teenager. Pleasure was a dirty word. Literature had to have moral force. It had to change your way of seeing the world and acting in it as an ethical agent. Hard words were exchanged in serious magazines, which reduced rival critics to mewling wrecks and ruined carefully-built careers.

Poetry and novels had to be difficult, like intellectual mazes. They should never simply affirm the reader’s own prejudices about life, society and the world.

Two of Frank and Queenie’s gods were Henry James and D.H.Lawrence.

I can’t now read a page of Lawrence without squirming in embarrassment, as much for the fact that I used actually to take him seriously as for his literary vacuity. And James! I read them all. I read each sentence (often over a page long) two or three times to make sure I was following it right. And for what? Let it be established and understood forever by everyone: Henry James is boring twaddle.

The realisation, in my mid-twenties, that I didn’t have to think there were ‘great’ books, didn’t have to read them all ‘properly’ otherwise I wouldn’t go to heaven, didn’t have to have the right opinions about them, was an enormous, almost physical, relief.

Pleasure is the only genuine motive for reading anything.

I have recently finished The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. It is an excellent investigation into a now-forgotten murder case, at Road Hill House in Wiltshire in 1860. It spawned many works of fiction at the time. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, said to be the first real detective novel, was loosely based on it. Dickens modelled Inspector Bucket in Bleak House on Jack Whicher of the Yard.

Collins also wrote what came to be known as ‘sensation’ novels. The best of these is Basil, which I’ve also just read.

It’s superb. This bloke Basil sees a girl on a bus and decides there and then to marry her. (Which of us hasn’t done that? Eh?) So he does. Of course the whole thing turns out to be a disaster with life-long consequences. I won’t spoil it for you.

Detective novels are very often looked down on in posh literary circles, quite wrongly in my view. At their best they are tight, controlled, self-contained creations, every bit as good as the one-idea novel M Amis churns out each year.

The mysterious madman, the woman with a horrific past, the teenager twisted by years of brutality and neglect – who wouldn’t want to read about them ?

My first introduction to this world, after I’d shed my pretensions, was Ruth Rendell. I’ve just off-loaded quite a few in Oxfam in Kings Heath, so if you’re quick.....

I needed room for the complete works of Elmore Leonard, a genius of the highest water. Read LaBrava. It is perfect.



The Stirrer Forum

The Stirrer home

valid xhtml

©2006 - 2009 The Stirrer