Friday, August 21, 2009

Keeping it short, or, `The sight of the defeated is always tedious'

The title to this post includes a line uttered by a corporate official in Dominique Manotti's Dead Horsemeat, and it's typical of Manotti's technique in one respect.

It's a powerful line but spoken matter-of-factly, amid cocktail-party chatter in a luxurious apartment as guests catch sight of a banner commemorating the events of Tiananmen Square. The guests drop the subject as suddenly as they bring it up.

I don't like references to a novel's "texture" because I'm not always sure what the word means. With Manotti, it would mean terse writing, spare character reactions even in scenes of violence, low-key jokes that have a sharp effect set against the laconic prose that surrounds them. All this makes for a fast pace, especially when Manotti describes harsh but small crimes that must be building to something bigger. The resulting suspense is why I regard Manotti's novels as part crime, part thriller, or better, as crime thrillers.

This is all the more impressive because her novels range widely and cover big topics: from horse barns to corporate takeovers, from sweatshops to government security services, massive international drug smuggling and high-level assassination attempts, from factory floors to the highest offices of power in France. These could easily be earmarks of fat, sprawling doorstops, yet the three books available in English check in at about 255 pages for Rough Trade, around 200 for Lorraine Connection, and a spartan 175 for Dead Horsemeat. That's just one factor that makes reading Manotti a bracing experience.
Click here for more Manotti posts. And tell me what crime or other novels have surprised you with their brevity.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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13 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

When I reviewedWalking Back the Cat I commented on its brevity: "It takes Littell only 220 pages to do what it took Ludlum 544 pages to do in The Bourne Identity." I see you commented on that review: did you ever read it?

Ooh! captcha: "precult" -- the passive behavior exhibited by some before they turn over all their worldly goods to lunatics.

August 22, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I never did, although I see I noted with interest your comment on its brevity. I don't often find myself in places where thrillers come up for discussion. Your review was the first I'd read of it. Keep bringing it up every time I mention the word "thriller" in a post, and maybe I will get to it one day.

August 22, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It seems to me that the books of Littell's that I've seen are fatter than that. Maybe they're purposely bound that way (big print, lots of white space, thick covers) because thriller fans expect fat books.

August 22, 2009  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Carlotto, Sciascia, Lucarelli and Camilleri. Not a firm of lawyers in New Jersey but four writers who manage in about 250 pages or less to provide all the twists and turns that make up a good crime fiction book.
Those Sjowall and Wahlos were about 250 pages long.

August 22, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

With the discussion about merde in the previous post, I swear I did read "the sight of the defecated is always tedious".

August 22, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lucarelli especially writes notably brief books, particularly in the the DeLuca series. Manotti probably writes a bit longer than those taciturn Italians, but she still stands out because her subjects have a sweep that could easily lend itself to much longer books. Imagine, say, Sciascia, writing about moral corruption in Sicily and touching on the lives and deeds not just of town residents and small businessmen but also of mafiosi, big construction companies, police and politicians and still keeping his books as short as they are. That's what Manotti does.

August 22, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, when I saw your comment, I was afraid that I had labelled my post that way.

I've read a few more chapters of Debout les morts. The merde just keeps on coming.

August 22, 2009  
Blogger Maxine said...

Donna Moore's Go To Helena Handbasket is barely 100 pages.

Karin Fossum is pretty short, as is Saskia Noort.

Oh, and Hakan Nesser.

Agree with Norman on Camilleri though have not read the others he lists.

August 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Noort is short?

No one is shorter than Lucarelli and Sciascia, I think, and I recommend both in the highest possible terms. But I still know of no one who combines epic sweep with laconic prose and concise composition the way Manotti does.

August 23, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

But I still know of no one who combines epic sweep with laconic prose and concise composition the way Manotti does.

She cites among her models and inspiration Hammett first and foremost, and then Ellroy and Carver.

August 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note.

No shock in her preferences, I suppose. I've just found an interview from 2006 in which Manotti discusses those and other authors whose works she admires, and she offers pertinent remarks about economy of style. I may make a post about that interview.

It only occurs to me now how little I had read about Manotti. Perhaps she keeps a low profile.

August 24, 2009  
Blogger Vanda Symon said...

I enjoyed Lucarelli's 'Almost Blue', but wished it were longer!

August 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have a copy lying around, but I have not yet read it. I have read Lucarelli's three novels about Commissario De Luca -- Carte Blanche, The Damned Season and Via Delle Oche. These may be less well known than his other work, which is a shame because they combine the noir thriller and the historical mystery like nothing else I've read.

August 25, 2009  

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