I’ve gone and done it again. I’ve abandoned my third Tana French novel in a row! I swear, what is wrong with me? My sister-in-law and several reader-friends I greatly admire all love her books– cannot put them down– and I get a mere halfway through and just can’t do it anymore. What is my problem?
Well, I’ll tell you.
This isn’t exactly a criticism of Tana French. I always enjoy the first half of her novels. After all, I must or I wouldn’t have bought the first two and borrowed the second. I love that the detective is always introduced in the previous novel. The detective of novel number four is likewise introduced in the one I
am was reading. I love the way she describes in such great detail these characters so that they are alive. And how many Irish characters can you recall who are not stereotypes? The dialogue is natural, the people feel real and I care for them.
I’m the problem here, not the author.
I first started reading Agatha Christie in middle school. I devoured them all and I wanted to be Tuppence Beresford. I immersed myself in that world, bought anything that was from the Golden Age of detective fiction, and lived in my own personalized amalgam of my current world and a past, imaginary one that existed across the ocean– or that had seemed once to have existed.
I didn’t limit myself to Dame Agatha, no. I snapped up all the Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers, John Dickson Carr, and Edmund Crispin novels and short stories I could find, too. And I can’t forget all the Sherlock Holmes stories, either, which now that I think about it, I read even before Agatha Christie. So, you see, while I can be a modern reader when it comes to contemporary literary fiction, when I am reading a mystery I am quite stuck in my ways. The mystery genre was my first love, and it is true: You never forget your first love.
This is why I can’t blame Tana French for my abandoning her novels, even though it is the way that she writes that is putting me off. I am being put off because I’m such an old mystery fogey, that’s the problem! As a mystery reader, I expect a conflict or a puzzle, and then I expect some clues and red herrings, and enough of a trail for me to follow. I’ve read a lot of Jo Nesbø lately, and while he is of course modern, he does stick to the classic– well, for lack of a better word– formula. Clues are leaked out like the deliberate irrigation of a crop, controlled. Tana French’s clues are buried in so much detail that they are indistinguishable from everyday minutiae. She provides a flood, whereas I need a trickle. I’d bet five dollars that in real life there is a flood and not the trickle I desire– but as a reader, and more importantly as a reader of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, I am used to a more controlled leakage of clues. At first the flood is enjoyable– I’m awash with detail, and it feels realistic. I care about the characters and the mystery. But after too long I drown. I set the book down, don’t feel like jumping in and struggling anymore, and I go back to something else that is comfortable.
Is it laziness, or habit? I don’t know. I don’t usually shy away from difficult reading. In fact, I often enjoy it, because it’s like yoga. You stretch and stretch your brain, and then you inhale and exhale and see if you can stretch some more. I’m no stranger to perseverance. But I can’t force myself to jump into the flood, if that makes any sense. I give up, I drown.
In a way, this post is an apology. Maybe to my sister-in-law and friends who enjoy Tana French so much, or maybe to the author herself. It’s not you! It’s me!
One of the things I try to do, in life, not just in reading, are to not have rigid expectations. I try to go with the flow, because I’m a Californian after all, and I’m a hippie like that. I also eat a lot of vegetables, genuinely like the taste of tofu, and have been known to actually embrace a tree. However, my patience runs out when it comes to reading. One of the only things I can control in my life is what I read, so I’m going not going to force myself to read something that doesn’t hold me.
So, what is next on my nightstand? I’ve got a huge stack, but I think I’m going to crack open A. S. Byatt‘s Babel Tower. I picked it up at the Goodwill. I haven’t read anything by her for a long time, so I’m looking forward to it. In finding her link, I just saw that she is Margaret Drabble’s sister! What? I never knew! I feel like someone’s been keeping family secrets from me. Oh! And I just read that they are feuding because one of them wrote about a family tea set that the other one had planned on writing about. Ha! I am pretty sure there is more to it than that, don’t you think? Who knows what it is really about. It’s probably more to do with who had more attention as a child, or something like that. We’re all slaves to that at some level.
As for my own writing, I am plodding forward. I’ve set aside my Post Suburban Mystery, but have not completely abandoned it. I need to see it with fresh eyes, so it needs to be alone for a little while. It is sitting safely in my Google Docs, waiting. I’ve got a diversion, also a mystery, set in our very own Tower District. It’s fun to see how closely I can draw from real surroundings before I have to fudge. I’m trying to add conflict in ways that make me feel uncomfortable, and I’m still loosely following the advice of The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts. That reminds me, I need to be more rigorous about following it! I got comfortable, you see, and like a psych patient who wants to go off their meds because, “I feel fine, now! Really!” that is a dangerous road to take. I need to stay on my meds, thank you very much, and those meds are my Plot Whisperer writing prompt book.