Sunday, June 07, 2020

Treating a Recurring Character Like a Ventriloquist Dummy Does Not Work for Long

I have no intent to turn this into a political post, so please read it carefully before commenting on it, if you are inclined to do so. It is a post about readers and the authors they love. That's all it is.

I finished a book early this morning and decided to jump right into Peter Robinson's latest Inspector Banks book while I had breakfast - with the intent that my next post would be a review of the just-finished The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate. But before I finished the first chapter of Robinson's Many Rivers to Cross, my plans had changed. 

I have become a big fan of the Inspector Banks books since more or less stumbling on the twenty-fifth book in the series (Careless Love) last year. At the time, I was delighted to find that there were so many books in the series for me to go back and read in the order in which they were published. And that's exactly what I've been doing, now having read the first five books in the series that were written between 1987 and 1991. But I plan to read the series using a sandwiching approach: read all the earliest ones in order but read the latest ones when they are published. I think this new one was published in January 2020, so it's been out there for a little while already - and I had to wait a long time to reach the top of my library hold list for an e-book copy. Thus, my excitement to get started quickly now that I have a copy.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I found one of the main characters from the last book, a real heroine of that story, spouting off on page three about current politics. Before half the first chapter is over, she slanders the current American president, implies that 52% of Brits are racist because they voted for Brexit, and makes some disparaging remarks about a French politician or two. I'm not sure that what she said is necessarily something that particular character would or would not be thinking - but it doesn't add a thing to the storyline and it is difficult not to think that the words are something Robinson wants to say for himself but feels that he cannot. I don't know that, of course, and I never will, but now I have this nagging little doubt in my head that the book is going to turn into some kind of political rant on Robinson's part. 

And that is absolutely the last thing I want to read right now - or ever.

I'm reading on in hopes that Robinson got it all out of his system in the first handful of pages, but if it continues, I'm going to have to toss a book I've been looking forward to for weeks. I read murder mysteries and detective series to escape the everyday world and its 24-hour news cycle. I think an author who forgets that, and especially one who decides to suddenly change the whole tone of a long-running series, does so at their own risk. 

Don't go there, Peter Robinson. Please, don't go there. An Inspector Banks novel doesn't need to make a political statement (disparaging to either side) unrelated to the plot in order to signal how virtuous its author is. You're better than that. Aren't you?

8 comments:

  1. Yes. There's a female Scottish crime author I've stopped reading because of this exact thing. I read a couple and thought they were quite good but she couldn't resist having a sly dig or two at right wing politics and voters and it put me right off. I knew she was like that but a good author keeps their own views off the page and that was what I expected. For instance I know one right-wing author, Brexit voter etc. but you would never ever guess it from her crime series or other writings. And that's as it should be. 'Virtue signalling' I think they call it and I find it very much not to my taste.

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    1. Val McDermid, by any chance?

      It's one thing if the dialogue or character background fits the character and advances the story or gives a clearer picture of what the character is really like. But it's a whole other thing if words unconnected with plot or character or put into a character's mouth only to say what the author is likely to be to afraid to say out loud in his own voice. This happened within the first five pages, and hasn't been mentioned or hinted at again in the next 50. It's virtue signaling and it's degrading to readers and the author, alike, in my opinion.

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    2. That be she. I've seen her on quiz programmes and quite liked the woman but I knew from Twitter that she has strong left-wing opinions and is happy to call people who disagree with her all kinds of unpleasant names. But then she's not alone in that. I see further down in the comments that you've cleared a few authors like that from your bookshelves. I got rid of several myself for the same reason. Have also been very disillusioned by quite a few TV people I previously liked. The thing I don't get is that none of these people seem to mind that they're losing readers or viewers by the thousand. Don't the authors want people buying their books? Or is it the case that they only want to sell them to people who hold the same political beliefs as them? Bizarre.

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    3. The list is long and getting longer. What these writers don't seem to realize is that not everyone will be able to read their work again without thinking about who they (the writers) really are as people. Some of them have gotten so nasty, that I question their mental health.

      Among the worst ones I've noticed are Stephen King, Don Winslow, Joyce Carol Oates, Attica Locke, Brad Thor, Greg Isles, and Rebecca Makkai. I've read and enjoyed several of these authors, but it will be a long, long time before I feel like reading them again - if ever.

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  2. Authors are like other artists, they like to have an audience for their work. For most it doesn't matter if the audience is large or small just so long as someone appreciates their work. Still why would an author want to alienate half their readership? Political opinion is devided almost 50-50 on most major questions so, if an author 'plays to the base' so to speak, he or she is writing off (pun intended) many potential readers.

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    1. That's what I don't get, Bill. Why purposely write off half of your potential readers or reviewers like that? I don't care what Robinson's political beliefs are, and I really don't want to hear about them this way.

      Some authors have gone way over the line publicly by purposely verbally abusing those whose politics in social media platforms. I've made note of those and can't read them anymore now because I know just how dark their hearts really are. I've even cleared my shelves of about 125 books as a form of my own silent protest against people like them who are so willing to ridicule others in such a cruel way. (And I didn't spare the books. Part of my protest was to make sure they were pulped, even the ones of considerable value.)

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  3. I don't like political rants in books, especially not in fiction novels where it really doesn't belong. If I wanted to read political rants, I'd go on Twitter (which I don't...ever).

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    1. Lark, like I said up above, if the political rant fits the character as we know them or it advances the plot, I get it. But just throwing it out there as matter of factly like Robinson did on page 3 of this one, well, that's absurd and it makes Robinson look petty and childish. I almost feel bad for him...almost.

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