Thursday 21 February 2008

Footnotes and The Athenian Murders

David Ellis wrote an interesting article on Chekhov’s career as a crime writer (yes!) in the latest issue of CADS. He also added an interesting ‘footnote about footnotes’, commenting that ‘there is surely a treatise to be written on the role of footnotes in crime and detective stories.’ As he points out, footnotes can be found in Poe’s ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’, as well as in Chekhov’s The Shooting Party and the work of John Dickson Carr

Several whodunits of the Golden Age made regular use of footnotes, sometimes merely for the purpose of advertising previous books by the same author. C. Daly King, whom I mentioned recently, used footnotes extensively, sometimes perhaps to bolster the impression of erudition in the field of psychiatry.

Ellis also makes mention of The Athenian Murders, by Jose Carlos Somoza, published in the UK very successfully a few years ago. It’s an astonishing performance, quite unlike anything I’ve read – a one-off to rank, arguably, alongside two strange masterpieces: The Face on the Cutting Room Floor by Cameron McCabe and The Red Right Hand by Joel Townsley Rogers. I don’t wish to spoil the story, but Ellis summarises the relevance of footnotes well: they ‘at first appear to be helpful comments from a translator [but] become more frequent and assertive until the translator intrudes into the actual story.’ Suffice to say that it’s a very clever book. Some may say it’s too clever for its own good, but I found it refreshingly different.

No comments: