Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Perplexing Plots by David Bordwell

I first came across David Bordwell just over six years ago, when out of the blue he sent me a kind email, having just read and enjoyed The Golden Age of Murder. Although I was unfamiliar with his work at that time, I learned that he was a distinguished American academic and an expert in film history. This led to my discovery of his admirable blog which offers a wealth of info and comment about films, including many old favourites of mine. We have stayed in touch and I devoured with great enthusiasm his 2019 book Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling.

While I was working on The Life of Crime, I found on a number of occasions that David's ideas were invaluable in terms of leading me in fresh directions with my own evolving ideas about narrative. So was the information packed into his work. To say the least, it's uncommon to find a distinguished academic who writes with such clarity and elegance, while coming up with insights that are genuinely thought-provoking. This fascinating post is an excellent example, but there are plenty more I could have chosen. So he made a very real contribution to my book.

And now David has just published a splendid new book, Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and The Poetics of Murder, published by Columbia University Press. Again, it's an erudite and meticulously researched volume, but written in such an accessible style and full of such interesting material that I have no hesitation in recommending it. On the back cover, there's a quote in which I say that this is 'the most illuminating study of narrative technique that I've read'. 

High praise, yes, but I stand by every word. I don't mean it to sound as though we've formed a mutual admiration society, but I have found it exciting to come across someone who, although we have never met in person, shares a number of my interests and with whom it's been possible to exchange ideas to mutual benefit. So my warmest congratulations go to David and I hope and expect that this terrific book will achieve the breadth of readership that it deserves.


Liz Gilbey said...

Thank you for this terrific and absorbing very nearly disrupted and overtook my entire day as I got lost in the site (a bit!) Would very much recommend the intriguing and very insightful dissection of book into film and tv series - and the real life inspiration of all three - of a long time favourite, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Masterly analysis as exciting as the very item it is based upon. I look forward into delving further in David Bordwell and his work. I very much enjoy the perception and objectivity of his analyses. Thank you, Martin.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Liz. There is some fantastic material on David's site as well as in this marvellous book and I'm not surprised you are impressed!

RJS said...

Thanks for this reference.
by the way, I'm sick of reading crossover authors who might be well-known in their own field, but are not capable of writing crime fiction. I'm thinking here of Osman, Moore (Croissants nonsense) and Frankie Boyle (Mediocre-time).
What are your thoughts on these usurpers? Are the publishers hyping them to death?
PS when I see in contrast the many talented new-blood authors at Bristol crime fest, I begin to seeth and dribble...

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, RJS. I was on a panel at Harrogate in July when this question came up and although opinions varied and will continue to vary, for reasons I understand, I'm relaxed about it. For me, the only question is whether a book is a good one, judged by reasonable criteria, including the author's own aims. It's inevitable that celebrities will benefit from a heavy investment in marketing that gives their sales a huge boost, but ultimately what matters is the quality of the story. I haven't read many celebrity authors but I thought Richard Coles' debut was nicely written, while Richard Osman's first novel has a poignancy and a wit that made a very positive impression on me - I wouldn't go along with the general description of it as 'cosy crime'. Of course it's much tougher for those of us who don't have big marketing budgets, but that is life. I recall attending a lecture about Agatha Christie many years ago when a fellow young author was rather cross that she was still being heavily promoted while his own (excellent) books were not. I understand the emotion, but personally I think it's best to focus on one's own work and not worry about how much better other people are doing. Even better if you can enjoy what they are doing. That fellow author eventually gave up writing, something I very much regret, and I think this illustrates the point I'm trying to make. It's best to try to keep believing in oneself and one's writing, even when it seems hardly anybody else does!