8 May 2010

Weekly Geeks 16-2010: Political perspectives

Bernadette at Reactions to Reading is the "problem poser" at Weekly Geeks this time.

She says... I have been pondering the issues of whether it is possible to separate an author's non-writing life from the books they produce ....Does an author's politics matter to you?

I believe some writers write as they do as a direct consequence of their political beliefs. I can think of a number of crime fiction writers who actually use their novels as a vehicle for social commentary.

Henning Mankell for example is constantly asking what has gone wrong with Swedish society. In my review of THE MAN FROM BEIJING I wrote "Mankell has used an extraordinarily large canvas - in part as a platform for his criticisms not only of today's Norwegian society but also what might happen in Mozambique, where he lives, and other African countries, as a result of Chinese economic colonialism."
This was also a point that Henning Mankell made in the foreword to PYRAMID. He says he is conscious of making Kurt Wallander his mouthpiece: talking about what is happening to Sweden, the erosion of traditional values, the rise of violence, the influx of refugee immigrants who do not share the same value systems.

He is not the only author to whom politics matters. I believe it matters greatly to Ian Rankin and Donna Leon too. This was a point that I made in one of my very early blog posts.

For example Ian  Rankin beds Rebus's finale in EXIT MUSIC against the issues of real time Scotland, focussing on Scottish independence, an issue that dominated the Scottish elections of 2006.

SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN by Donna Leon is a story set against themes of baby trafficking and surrogacy. Declining fertility in the Western world is contrasted with the apparent fecundity of refugees and immigrants; and the desire of women for children is set against the apparent willingness of some to sell the only thing they can produce: their child.

And I can't let the post finish without reference to Ruth Rendell who admits that many of the issues that surface in both her Wexford and her Barbara Vine books are directly the result of research she carries out because of her position as an Life Peer.
Rendell is a convinced Labour supporter and still defines her political views as 'socialist'. Rendell’s progressive political views are reflected in her novels, which try to innovate a fundamentally conservative literary genre. Ruth Rendell writes mysteries in the vein of a social critic who observes and exposes social inequalities, racial and sexual discriminations and gender biases.more

So, yes I think an author's political beliefs probably do matter to me, not so much which political party they belong to, but whether I am comfortable with the social observations they make. That's probably why I like Agatha Christie too- because I believe her books are full of a largely unrecognised social commentary.

Most crime fiction writeres are not writing in a social or political vacuum. They are part of the times that they live in, and can't help either reflecting that, or in some way commenting on it. They may simply be using in their novel an exploration of something they have seen in a newspaper, or an idea that has been worrying at them.

9 comments:

Mash1195 said...

Hi...found your blog via the Book Blog Hop. Suspense/mystery are my favorite genre also so am now a new follower of your blog. I can be found here
CMash

unfinishedperson.com said...

Sometimes I have to be honest...at least, in the case of nonfiction, a writer's politics do matter to me. For example, I don't want to read Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck or Ann Coulter. However, I have read spy novels by William F. Buckley Jr. in the past and actually enjoyed them. Of course, that was when I was younger and didn't know any better. ;)

IM said...

Ruth Rendell is not an MP. She is a Life Peer.

Erotic Horizon said...

[..]but whether I am comfortable with the social observations they make.

I agree - while I am willing to go a few books into an authors work to see if this is a prevailing issue with all of their work - and as you said, even if I don't agree with it,is it something I can overlook to be introduced to a great plot.. is a big factor for me.

Authors personal politic on the Iraq war is probably one of the most incorporated view in books in the last few years - I agree author don't live in a vacumm and will write about day to day isues, how that comes across is another matter..

Cool post and thank for the links..

E.H>

Karen Russell said...

I agree, Kerrie, but I think oftentimes the authors don't even realize that they are inscribing political positions through the worldview they present -- for example, how they portray women or marriage, race and class.

As readers (or viewers) I think we have to be aware of this, even if the authors are not. For instance, I used to love the U.S. TV show, "24" because of its fast-paced plot and constant plot twists, but one day all the violence got to be too much and I finally realized the extent to which it was portrayed as necessary or justifiable. That's not a position I would usually take, but I'd fallen into accepting it without noticing.

Kerrie said...

Thanks IM - I've made the correction

Kerrie said...

Erotic Horizon - I know what you mean about the Iraq War. I did read a book based on the reaction back in the US that made me consider whether I really wanted to read it.

kathy d. said...

I do enjoy Henning Mankell's points in "The Man from Beijing," and also Kjell Eriksson's in his books. Also, love Donna Leon's books, agree with her much of the time, but not 100 percent. And haven't really read Ruth Rendell's but probably agree with her a lot.

Hate to say this to Agatha Christie lovers, but when I was about 19, eons ago, I stopped reading her books because I realized she was really racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic.
Her anti-Semitism has been written about on many blogs which I've seen and also her attitudes about people from outside Britain who are non-white. So that did it for me. I can't read that. It takes the joy out of it.

I do have a standard on racism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant attitudes. If an author is using a character or a dialogue to expose this stuff, okay, but not if it's the author's point of view.

gautami tripathy said...

I don't wish to read authors having biased views.

http://readbookswritepoetry.blogspot.com/2010/05/weekly-geeks-secret-pasts-and-peculiar.html

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