1 March 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-08: Crime Fiction & Social Issues

This week's Weekly Geek Challenge is to talk about social or political issues.
    1. Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. If you were a Weekly Geek last May and already did this theme, pick a different theme than the one you did at that time.

    2. Educate readers about your topic by telling us a little about it and any involvement you've had in this issue.

    3. Find books addressing your issue; they do not necessarily have to be books you’ve read. They can be non fiction, fiction, poetry, etc...Give a little synopsis of the book or a link to the description.

    4. Use images which you feel illustrate your topic.

    You can be as creative as you like - have fun with the theme and show us your passion!
I'm, as usual, doing a little variant on that, and talking about crime fiction writers as social commentators.

This was a point that Henning Mankell made in the foreword to PYRAMID that I reviewed recently. 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.

In it I wrote:
As you do in the novels of Ian Rankin, Ruth Rendell and Donna Leon, the reader becomes aware of social change, as refugees flood into Sweden, and drug trafficking replaces the old ways criminals used to make money. Mankell sees himself as a social commentator, and Kurt Wallender as his mouthpiece: (this is from the Foreword to THE PYRAMID)
"... the books have always been variations on a single theme: 'What is happening to the Swedish welfare state in the 1990s?..'.....
Wallander has in a way served as a kind of mouthpiece for growing insecurity, anger and healthy insights about the relationship between the welfare state and democracy".

It is in fact something you see even in the novels of Agatha Christie.

In my review of her very first novel THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES I wrote
This novel is set towards the end of World War One, and Christie makes a number of observations about the privations of life in England during the war, rationing, and shortages, and a style of living that is fast disappearing. The house at Styles for example once had a much larger domestic, household and garden staff, but is now "making do". The Cavendish brothers have inherited money, John lives the life of a country squire, and Lawrence, the younger brother is delicate and follows literary pursuits. Other members of the family are working in "acceptable" occupations, for war time that is, a nurse, the land army, and a companion.

Once you recognise Agatha Christie as a social and political commentator on her own times, then you recognise this role everywhere in her early novels at least.

It helps you understand that 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.


Maree said...

Great post. I had never looked at Agatha Christie that way, but you're absolutely right.
Happy Weekly Geeks

Kerrie said...

Thanks for dropping in Maree. I liked your post about the media too.

Bernadette said...

I think in a different way we're saying the same kind of thing this week Kerrie: that the best writers can entertain and inform and if they're really good at it you don't even realise you're learning something

Susan said...

I've often thought that crime writers comment on society around them. they can't help it, it's part of the nature of crime solving, because crimes don't exist in a vacuum. I'm glad you brought it up, though! And though I'm in a fantasy reading mood at the moment, I have a huge stack of mysteries to get to next; for some reason I can't fathom, I read mysteries more in the summer than the winter months!


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