Month: October 2011

Pulp Fiction

Posted October 26, 2011 by Michael Kitto in Literature, Pulp / 4 Comments

Thanks to the “1001 Books to Read Before you Die” list I’ve been able to explore all types of genres in an effort to find a favourite. I believe I’ve found this genre, and that is Pulp; not crime or mystery in general, but the dark and gritty style of Hard-Boiled and Noir novels. Pulp fiction originated as a type of inexpensive fiction magazine published from 1896 through the 1950s commonly releasing adventure, detective/mystery, fantasy, gangster and science fiction stories. One of the more famous pulp magazines was known as Black Mask which produced a lot of crime stories which became the basis of the Hard-Boiled and Noir genres.

Now there isn’t much difference between the two genres, both written in a laconic, dispassionate, often ironic style of realism. Hard-Boiled is the detective genre, distinguished by the unsentimental portrayal of violence and sex, made famous by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. While Noir focuses on a plot where the protagonist is the victim, suspect, or perpetrator; this style was commonly used by seminal author James M Cain. While the two genres are not black and white, often authors like Jim Thompson would blur the lines by writing about a detective or police officer being the perpetrator of the crimes.

In the film industry these types of movies are all classed as noir movies, which has been a huge success in France and in recent years has been modernised (both in films and literature) creating a new genre known as Neo-Noir. This genre is not necessarily a crime melodrama set in modern times but often set in the future (blending Noir with Science Fiction and Cyberpunk).

From my experience, the pulp genre seems to become popular in waves; first in the 1930 and 40’s with the original greats like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M Cain. Later in the 1950 and 60’s it was revived again with authors like Jim Thompson, Ross MacDonald, David Goodis and Charles Williams. Then again in the 1980 and 90’s with authors like Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, Walter Mosley and James Ellroy. It is possible that this genre is on the verge of making another come back; with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo been compared to this genre and the popularity of the new video game LA Noire which has sparked a book of short stories based in that world. I can only hope, but with so many dime store books to catch up with, I think I will be alright without the genre making a comeback.

I really took to these genres, simply for the gritty realism, strong dialogue and wittiness and/or irony. While I have a lot to get through, I thought I would end this post with a top 5, for anyone interested in trying this genre out. If you have any recommendations, please let me know.

5. Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson

The experimental style of Jim Thomspon made him one of darkest authors in this genre. The protagonist in this book is disturbing and still remains very realistic.

 
 

4. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

While many people would choose The Maltese Falcon, this book has more violence, gangsters and corruption.

 
 
 

3. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

Using a true crime as the basis of this book, The Black Dahlia is both modern (written in 1987) and keeping to the same style and feel to many of the great pulp authors.

 
 

2. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

This book was full of sexuality and violence that was startling in the time and was ended up being banned in Boston. It’s a shining example of what a good noir novel should be like.

 

1. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

While some people would recommend The Big Sleep or Farewell, My Lovely; The Long Goodbye gets the nod from me for its social criticism and autobiographical elements.


Literary Paris

Posted October 4, 2011 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 11 Comments

Paris is a city full of culture, with a rich history and recently I was able to visit this beautiful city and now all I want to do is talk about the literary side of this city. No, I didn’t get to go the Jules Verne Restaurant on the Eiffel Tower and I didn’t get to visit Oscar Wilde’s grave but I did see some very interesting sites, thanks to an iPhone app and some exploring.

James Joyce’s Apartment in Paris

One of the first places we saw was the apartment of James Joyce. Joyce lived in the apartment during the 1920’s and 30’s and it was here were he penned his masterpiece Ulysses.

Panthéon

Completely by accident we then came across the Panthéon. Originally a church, the Panthéon is full of history, mainly dedicated to the French Revolution. In the Crypt you can find many of French’s great heroes from the French Revolution as well as some of the country’s greatest writers including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. Completely by accident we also found that the Panthéon is the place where Foucault pendulum is on display. For those who don’t know, this pendulum shares the same name as a conspiracy masterpiece by Umberto Eco.

Foucault pendulum

While the original Shakespeare and Co book store was forced to close its doors when owner Silvia Beach refused to sell the last copy of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake to a Nazi officer, the store did reopen in 1951. The original served as a gathering place for writers such as Ernest Hemingway, William S. Burroughs, and James Joyce in the 1920’s. The reopened Shakespeare and Co strives to cater to writers and readers in the same way as the original, seeing many beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William S. Burroughs again. The Shakespeare and Co bookstore initially published Joyce’s book Ulysses in 1922. While Ulysses and books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned around the world, readers can both buy and borrow these books from the Shakespeare and Co book store. This bookshop also appears in the new Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris.

Shakespeare and Company

The upscale Rue Gît-le-Cœur hotel was once a rundown hotel with no name, popularly known as the Beat hotel. This hotel was in the 1950’s saw many Beat authors including Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Derek Raymond, Harold Norse, Gregory Corso, Sinclair Beiles and even William s. Burroughs who completed his book, Naked Lunch, in the hotel.

The Beat Hotel

Oscar Wilde spent his last days in exile in L’Hôtel room 16. While there is a story going around that Wilde’s last words was ‘Either this wallpaper goes or I will’ many people believe his last words really were “I am dying beyond my means”. Other famous guests include Marlon Brando and writer Jorge Luis Borges.

Bastille

While there is much more I can talk about in Paris, including the L’Académie française; the French Academy involved in protecting and preserving the French language as well as handing out the Country’s literary awards. I did have to spend some times looking at the sites and art of Paris as well. This is a beautiful city with so much to explore and discover. It is rich in history and culture and I do hope to return there again someday.