Tuesday, 15 March 2016
The Golden Age...and feminism
Ann Cleeves has been a guest of honour at a literary festival in Dubai (sponsored by Emirates Airways, who no doubt find it a less stressful form of marketing than backing Arsenal!) and I was delighted to see that she's been talking about the implications of the renaissance in Golden Age fiction and the mega-success of the British Library Crime Classics in particular. The Sunday Telegraph picked up on her comments in a very intriguing article.
We can debate endlessly whether the renewed popularity of Golden Age mysteries strikes a blow for feminism. Obviously it can be said that many of the social attitudes evinced in the books are wholly out of date, and as inappropriate today as some of our attitudes would have been back then. And it's certainly true that not all Golden Age books are masterpieces. Ann is, as she says, by no means a total fan of them, although she has also pointed out that there are GA influences in some of her books, not least The Glass Room, a very good Vera Stanhope novel.
What is, to me, most striking,is the fact that the renewed interest in Golden Age fiction is giving rise to debate, not just in the UK and US but further afield. It's reasonable for views about the merits of the books to diverge. One (very generous) review of The Golden Age of Murder which said I'd never read a GA book I didn't like was, to be honest, well wide of the mark in that respect. It never bothers me if people tell me they don't like Christie or Sayers, or both of them, even though I'm a big fan. I do, though, wince when critics who have never, or rarely, read the books dismiss them and their authors out of hand.
Ann's suggestion that enthusiasm for GA books is in part a reaction to gory serial killer novels is especially thought-provoking. I think there's something in it,even though I'm one of those people who likes all kinds of crime fiction, ranging from fairly cosy (I draw the line at cats as detectives, I'm afraid) to noir; grisly novels certainly aren't always exploitative, even if some are. What is really gratifying is that those readers who do want to escape into the Golden Age now have a very wide range of titles to choose from. And I can promise that there are some quite excellent Crime Classics in the pipeline....