Sunday, July 5, 2009


Terrific, somewhat old interview in the Guardian, by Nicholas Wroe, with another touchstone writer:

Speaking in the offices of her French publisher in a courtyard just off the Place de la Bastille in Paris, [Fred] Vargas exudes the focused intensity of the proselytising political activist. But she says her roles as scientist, campaigner and novelist are essentially separate. "I don't think the detective story is there to change social reality. As a historian, I know that decisive victories in social and political problems are not made by authors. Émile Zola did it with J'accuse, but that wasn't a novel. The novel serves other purposes, which are just as important and deep in their own way, but they are different to politics."

Vargas sees the novel, and the detective story in particular, as fulfilling some of the same functions as Greek tragedy. In This Night's Foul Work, Adamsberg travels out to a Normandy village where the locals' caustic observations on his investigation resemble nothing so much as a Greek chorus. "I like to use these people from villages. Theirs are the voices that never move and never change." She makes a low humming noise. "I think of the story like an orchestra with the violins and the brass at the front taking forward the action. But at the back are basses" - more low humming - "making a noise that comes from eternity. I know the Normans very well because my mother's family is from there. But for me they represent all village people, and by extension some sense of elemental humanity."


She says she has a theory of art, into which the crime novel fits, that goes back to Neolithic times. "I think art emerged as a sort of medicine to deal with the fact that we are afraid, alone, small and weak in a dangerous world. But we are not like all the other animals and cannot live with just a pragmatic and realistic life. So we invent a second reality, similar but not identical to ours, into which we escape to confront these perils."

Her work is defiantly not realistic in that Adamsberg drives just a car, not, say, a Renault, and we don't know what he eats or wears or listens to. "In real life, I love clothes and labels and shops. But not in my novels. It becomes too precise."

She unexpectedly cites Agatha Christie as a model.

"Holmes is rightly thought to be brilliant, and people now laugh at Christie. But I see links between her and the mythology I read when I was young, and I think she was conscious of it, too. Like her, I want to tell a story that identifies and deals with the dangers we face. It's no longer wild animals, but the fears are just as real, so I make a journey with the reader, confront the horror of humanity, and deliver them safely home. Instinctively we feel better and can sleep soundly. Then, in the morning when the sun comes up, we can again face the world and move forward."

Marcel Proust
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Ernest Hemingway
Agatha Christie
Arthur Conan Doyle

No comments: