The soul of Twitter

I've been feeling bad about the books that lie unblogged in my wake. I've also been reflecting on the one-line review as a particularly artful and expeditious reading record. The harbinger of one-liners, Twitter is bagged for eroding language and maiming expression, but it could equally prove a useful discipline, a healthy moderation. Brevity, after all, is the soul of wit. In the spirit of Twitter, then, herewith some 140 character (count them!) reviews of my recent reads.

Served with a mint julep and a jazz band, Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s greatest, shatters America’s gleaming dreams on the dark shore of modernity.

In Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel remarkably makes both Thomas Cromwell and historical fiction rich, rounded, beguiling, believable and likeable.

Brutal sins long hidden surface on the southern coast in The Broken Shore, Peter Temple’s bleak, bluntly understated slice of modern gothic.

My Brother Jack calls up classic Australian types, the literate prig and the larrikin digger, to chronicle a young nation’s wars and wounds.


I’ve never really been into crime as a genre, but this year I’ve encountered and enjoyed quite a few criminal creations. The ABC’s Marple and Poirot series got me hooked (thanks iview!), and inspired me to read some Agatha Christie. I’ve also read two Peter Temple books: a far cry from Christie, but undoubtedly in the same tradition. All the contemporary crime shows and books have roots in crime’s progenitor, Arthur Conan Doyle, but stylistically and aesthetically, they’re very different. More on Peter Temple soon.

About Doyle, Chesterton, Christie, Sayers et al, there’s a decorum that now makes them seem sterile and contrived, and terribly innocent (not unlike the village of Midsomer). The detective always gets his man, and he always gets his cup of tea (or his opium pipe in Holmes’ case). The villains are frightfully easy to spot: if anyone has a limp, a pronounced Russian accent, and is called Boris, he’s almost bound to be your bloke - unless he's the good guy in a stupendous disguise. The clues are placed with precision for ease of retrieval in the unmasking scene, which invariably takes place in the drawing room, with everyone, conveniently including the murderer, present.

But even with all these now slightly daffy traits, there’s something satisfying about these plots, and in the richness of the worlds in which they unfold. There are also profound observations about human nature. It’s these which make the stories more than puzzles. And it’s these which I suspect constitute the enduring appeal of crime fiction. At their core is a hunt, bloody and athletic, for truth. There’s a primordial regard for justice, an elementary acknowledgment of sin that will not tolerate ambiguities. While crime is mired in the cultural ‘lowness’ of genre fiction, it yet provides a moral certainty that ‘high’ art often fails to provide, something on which the human spirit can feed. While the body count may be horrifically high, so too are the stakes – each death has its echo in the moral universe; each body counts.

Miles Franklin Winner: It's a crime!

For the first time ever, a crime novel has won the Miles Franklin Award. Peter Temple’s book Truth beat shortlisted novels by Brian Castro and Alex Miller (two-time winner).  I’m only mildly interested as I don’t read crime novels and I think literary prizes are only the roughest of rough guides as to what we should read. Their primary function I think is to generate discussion.

 So on the subject of crime novels (leaving aside the more vexed question of whether they count as literature), is anybody else worried by the marketshare they seem to have? At bookshops the crime section seems to be at least half again of the entire fiction section. What does it say about us as a culture if that’s what we mostly read?