Monday, 29 December 2008

Crusaders blogged in style on Kauderstuff

This blog commentary on Crusaders, by an "English/cultural studies professor", has come to my attention belatedly, and is one of the most interesting and considered that I've seen. Obviously that means he hasn't said anything I'm mortally offended by...
The author is very attentive to the novel's intended marriage of 'classic realism' and 'the modern thriller', and seems not unsympathetic to it, though he echoes Sean O'Brien's TLS review in proposing that Crusaders resorts "increasingly as it goes on, to genre-fiction conventions, and excitements provide it with formal constraint (and perhaps a readership) in lieu of more experimental or literary devices."
That said, he's also very alert to a problem I've encountered in the novel's reception and the general lit-crit debate around it, namely that of "how to represent characters and a social sector with little or no connection to the literary and intellectual world that the novel and its readers belong to." In other words, to those people who thought it risible that a yob like Stevie Coulson could experience a feeling of tristesse.
The author has certainly got a handle on the novel's view of the governmental War on Poverty, a topic that just gets sadder even as the Tories make an undertaking to continue the waging of that war if returned to office. As he puts it: "The novel is especially insightful about black-market/crim capitalism and its deep connections into the economic life of poor communities. At the end, it becomes clear that neither New Labour nor the Church have the capacity to reach into communities such as this."
And I certainly wouldn't take issue with the measured but generous final analysis: "Perhaps this is not one of the great literary novels, although its dialogue is stunning and its characterization wonderfully unsentimental and finely tuned to its major argument (it's a novel which does have an argument). But then to write a great literary novel about the lives of the poor has not so far been possible in the capitalist epoch."
Fair dinkum. One point I can correct the author on, happily: he reckons it's "not available in Australian bookshops", but even as of May it ought to have been. Indeed I think it was reviewed in one Australian paper of note. But then I suppose it depends on the individual bookshop...

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