Posts tagged ‘Georges Simenon’

May 27, 2013

The Silence of Animals: John Gray

by Andre

John Gray THE SILENCE OF ANIMALSPhilosopher John Gray has written a sequel to Straw Dogs that is hauntingly beautiful, sometimes bleak and often admonitory. Certainly liberal humanists and Christians alike will feel challenged by Gray’s arguments, particularly the debunking of his opponents’ faith in the “myth” of human progress, which he compares to “cheap music” for its simultaneous spirit-lifting and brain-numbing effect. “There is only the human animal, forever at war with itself,” he writes, rejecting any demarcation between the savage and the civilised. The rational human is, according to Gray, a modern myth; he even questions the notion that humans desire freedom.

There’s a lyrical, discomforting quality to the literary quotations he deploys. J.G. Ballard writes of the sense that “reality itself was a stage set that could be dismantled at any moment” when he recalled the abandoned casino he tiptoed through as a boy in wartime Shanghai. “Progress in civilisation seems possible only in interludes when history is idling,” notes Gray. The flood of quotations – from Norman Lewis and George Orwell, Joseph Roth and Ford Madox Ford, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Georges Simenon – sometimes makes The Silence of Animals read like the finest footnotes selection you’ll ever encounter. However, Gray’s own voice is just as quotable: he’s scathing about the “post-modern plantation economy” of the US, describes a perpetual search for happiness as like being burdened with a character in a dull story and regrets that “the pursuit of distraction has been embraced as the meaning of life”. The title alludes to the human struggle for silence as an escape from language. Turning outside yourself and contemplating the animals and birds, Gray writes, may finally enable you to “hear something beyond words”.

October 21, 2012

Foreign Bodies

by Andre

To echo this week’s triumphant Booker speech by Hilary Mantel, you wait years for a Riverside blog on foreign crime fiction and then two turn up at once. But Radio 4’s scrutiny of European literary detectives in the weeks ahead cannot go unmentioned, and the station’s dramatisation of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s series featuring detective Martin Beck is likely to create huge demand for these exemplary crime novels set in Stockholm. Between 1965 and 1975, the husband and wife writing duo published 10 captivating police procedurals that also held up a mirror to Swedish society and clearly influenced fellow Swede Henning Mankell.

The accompanying 15-part series Foreign Bodies is a typically ambitious Radio 4 project. It might have the alarmingly portentous subtitle ‘A History Of Modern Europe Through Literary Detectives’ but we should be in safe hands with presenter Mark Lawson, who regularly recommends continental crime writers on Front Row. The series will show how crime fiction reflects society’s tensions across Europe by focusing on popular detectives (Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, Nesbo’s Harry Hole and Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano) and venerable literary creations such as Maigret and Poirot, as well as introducing genre-bending crime authors Friedrich Durrenmatt and Nicolas Freeling.

The Martin Beck series starts at 2.30pm on 27 October and Foreign Bodies begins on 22 October at 1.45pm (and available on iPlayer Radio).