Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Interpretation of Reading

This makes me so sad:
If I want to read about history, I'd rather go with nonfiction written by a historian, and as for mysteries, I've just never been interested. What difference does it make who did it? These are just fictional characters made up for the purpose of teasing us by making it seem as if each one could have done it and withholding key pieces of information so you can't tell which one until the end. I'm sure there's more charm to it than that, but I don't know, because, as I've said, I don't read them.
I guess that would make Sharon Kay Penman Ann Althouse's least favorite author, although there is definitely something more to a good mystery novel than the arbitrary withholding of key pieces of information. Would a book narrated entirely in the first person be less objectionable to an Althousian reader, since the only information withheld would be that unavailable to the protagonist? Or is the third-person-omniscient preferable since less information is kept from the reader, even if it's not always available to all the characters?

Anyway, The Interpretation of Murder sounds like it would appeal to someone who likes both Iain Pears and early Caleb Carr. I am such a person. Huzzah.

UPDATE: There's more:
But mystery novels bother me because I don't want to relate to characters who are created for the purpose of being a puzzle.
But aren't most literary characters created to be pieces in a puzzle? Much science fiction revolves around the reactions of human beings to drastically different technological or cultural developments. Other types of fiction may set the puzzle within the inner life of the characters. Most fiction, if it's any good, will challenge us in some way to solve a puzzle, even if it's as straightforward as whodunit or as complex as determining what a given set of personal traits and circumstances will lead to. Bad literature cheats; it keeps things back from the reader or throws a deus ex machina in so things go as the author would like. Good literature has more honesty, a sense of inexorability, and even if we learn new things as we go along that change our perception of what happened or will happen, these developments flow naturally from the rest of the story.
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