Criminal Classics – Allan Guthrie

Allan Guthrie is the co-founder of Blasted Heath, the punkiest digital-only publishers around, and author of some seriously impressive crime novels, including the freshly kindlefied Savage Night.

Here’s the man himself on Georges Simenon’s The Blue Room…

A few words first on the ‘literary fiction’ versus ‘crime fiction’ debate, if I may. I think this is actually about literary fiction versus commercial fiction, and genre is something of a red herring. You can see that with Georges Simenon’s work, with his Maigret detective novels falling into the commercial fiction category (indeed referred to in French as his roman populaires) and his roman durs (‘hard novels’) falling on the more literary side of the fence.

The Blue Room is one of those roman durs.

It’s a psychological thriller about a couple having a steamy affair that leads to no good. What’s of particular interest here is Simenon’s technique. In Robert Olen Butler’s book on the craft of writing, From Where We Dream, he advocates that the writer avoid summary narrative entirely, only ever using dialogue and immediate sensory experiences to drive the narrative.

The Blue Room, written forty years earlier, is a prototype for such a literary style. Occasional dialogue aside, the text of the book recounts one sensory experience after another. There’s some reflection and minimal exposition, but nonetheless, from a technical point of view, it’s every bit as mind-blowing as, say, the relentlessly behaviourist approach of that other great stylist, Dashiell Hammett.

– Allan Guthrie

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