Thursday, March 12, 2009

Crime writers who turn to opera

It seems I'm not the first crime writer to turn his hand to writing a libretto. Apparently, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith have also had a go, as I discovered from this article in The Times.

Is there something about writing crime fiction that makes us especially qualified for the task, I wonder?

Without wanting to appear either pretentious or glib - though aware that I will probably come across as both - I wonder if it is something to do with a preoccupation with death. I sometimes feel when I'm writing my Porfiry books that the whole thing is really a way of confronting death, facing up to it. This happens literally, of course, when the detective, and the reader, is presented with a corpse. And I, as the writer, have to look that corpse in the face and try to describe what I see - or rather imagine.

I also have the sense that I'm trying to beguile death with my writing, or win her over. I want to show her that I'm on her side. Up to a point of course. In the hope, perhaps, that she will spare me, though I know she never will.

Yes, I give death a feminine aspect, following Cocteau. She is the Princess, the mysterious visitor who steps through the mirror in Orphee.

Death is present in all the best operas too. But maybe in a different way. Many are structured around the death of the central character. Death is still beguiled, but this time by song. And rather than being a confrontation, they are a distraction - for her and for us.

The drama both brings about the heroine's death, and keeps it at bay, at least until the final act. And in the meantime the opera says to death: Wait a while before you do your work, and listen to the song.

2 comments:

charles said...

I read your book a gentle axe and then followed it with slaughterhouse five. I noticed a parallel at the end of slaughterhouse five and I was wondering if this was a coincidence or this was on purpose and there are possibly more that I missed. Just as in your book where your characters: 1. steal a pot and 2. had a pornographic picture of a woman and a horse, this happens as well in the end of Vonnegut's book. In Vonnegut's book, one of the characters is shown a pornographic picture of a women and a horse, and another character is killed trying to steal a pot. Is this coincidence?

Roger Morris said...

Hi Charles, thanks for looking in and leaving a message. I have to say it's a coincidence. It's many years since I read slaughterhouse 5 - great book. It was not in my mind when I wrote A Gentle Axe. I was thinking more of Dostoevsky than Vonnegut.

Thanks for your interest - sorry to disappoint.