among the filthy filthy too


There are those who would claim that the crime novel and the thriller have a more direct power than their literary cousin to depict a society’s ills. According to this view, the crime novelist has the greater capacity to be, in W. H. Auden’s words, “among the filthy filthy too”. The sphere of crime, it is implied, is more powerful, more influential, in some sense more “real” than the ordinary life which most readers (and writers) occupy. The fact that it is also easier to read Ian Rankin than James Kelman tends to be set aside, and the tilt towards the dominance of genre fiction seems to grow steeper, a preference turning into its own justification. Generally speaking, however, the distinction between crime and thrillers on the one hand and “literary” fiction on the other lies in their attitude to language. Many crime novelists seem indifferent or unaware that it might be a good idea to have a view of the matter at all, and the result is work that suggests that the writer believes he or she can operate in some medium which exists prior to, or instead of, language.

more from Sean O’Brien at the TLS here.