[ilds] wordplay comparable to durrell

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Mon Sep 22 10:35:42 PDT 2008

Hi Bill,

Isn't this the general theme of /Justine/?  Darley had a grand love 
affair with a married woman who cared for him...  Except that's not 
really what happened.  There was also a spy ring, but not quite.  And, 
there was a murder at the end, but not really...  Each scanario shows 
Darley in the midst of generic expectations: here's how a spy acts and 
here's how a lover acts.  Yet, genres don't live up to reality, even 
though we know Durrell could and seemingly even enjoyed cranking out 
generic pieces on occasion.

Isn't /Justine/ then, to some degree, about the defeat of expectations 
and the slow recognition, perhaps for the reader rather than the 
narrator, that interpretation is the greater part of perception?  What 
are those 'Workpoints' left for, and do they contain enough material to 
make another spy narrative out of the thwarted expectations we had for 
the novel itself?

You're right that "the duck shoot is more illusion than reality. It's a 
set up," and I think the reader is the one being set up.

I also like how you note "without a Bondian confrontation."  If your 
books are chronological, flip next door to /Justine/ to /White Eagles 
Over Serbia/ for the confrontations.  MI5, fisticuffs, and secret 
organizations abound there, almost like it's the missing side of the 
other plots in /Justine/.

It's worth noting that sections from /White Eagles Over Serbia/ appeared 
in the volume /Exciting Escape Stories/ (1980), and a section from the 
/Quartet/ turned up as "IA" in /Great Spy Stories/ (1969).


william godshalk wrote:
> Well, Don Kaczinsky has pointed out -- how shall I put it? -- the 
> connection between Durrell and Bond.
> But in Dibdin's novels something happens.
> It seems to me that in Justine spies abound, and espionage is 
> rampant. Cohen carries a gun -- but he keeps unloaded. And the image 
> of the empty gun is perhaps perfect for this novel.The spying seems 
> to lead no where. There are no scenes of Bondian action. And if you 
> argue that the duck shoot tends in that direction, I'd have to say, 
> "all right, got me there." But still the duck shoot is more illusion 
> than reality. It's a set up.
> The drunken French sailor disappears -- without a Bondian confrontation.
> Bill
> At 09:10 AM 9/20/2008, you wrote:
>> See below for the comparison.  I believe that I recall other reviewers
>> making the connection between Dibdin and Durrell.  Please remind us of
>> what we should know if you have read Dibdin's works.
>> Enjoy!
>> CLS
>> **********************
>> --------------------
>> La dolce setting for British mystery writer Michael Dibdin
>> --------------------
>> With the Aurelio Zen detective series, the late author probed Italian
>> regions, politics and culture like a native.
>> By Scott Timberg
>> Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
>> September 20 2008
>> One of the fascinating things about the hard-boiled tradition is its
>> geographic flexibility. Writers all over the world have taken the form,
>> altered it to suit their times and temperaments and made it at home
>> almost everywhere.
>> The peripatetic Michael Dibdin -- who died last year, a few days after
>> his 60th birthday, and whose final novel, "End Games" has recently come
>> out in paperback -- may demonstrate this principle better than anyone.
>> Born in England's West Midlands and raised largely in Northern Ireland,
>> Dibdin settled in Seattle in 1995 and set most of his books in Italy.
>> His 11 novels featuring elusive, grappa-drinking police detective
>> Aurelio Zen dig deeply into the culture and politics of Italy's regions
>> and cities. Carl Bromley, who this year wrote a substantial piece in the
>> Nation on the author's "dark, ironic but oddly nostalgic vision,"
>> describes each book as "another piece of the jigsaw puzzle" of this
>> alluring and enigmatic country.
>> Though the novels have been dismissed by detractors as "tourist noir,"
>> Zen experiences Italy in almost the opposite way that Anglo vacationers
>> encounter bella Italia.
>> "Some of the books begin with a phone call," says Edward Kastenmeier,
>> Dibdin's longtime editor at Vintage Books. "And Aurelio Zen is sent to a
>> different part of Italy, where he's not wanted, where he doesn't want to
>> be and where he's trying to solve a crime that many people would like to
>> stay hidden."
>> Detective novels encourage their heroes to range up and down through
>> society, from dark alleys to the villas of the wealthy. They can give
>> fuller portraits of a culture than can mainstream novels, which tend to
>> focus on a single class, family or milieu.
>> While certain mystery writers effectively own a city -- James Lee Burke
>> and New Orleans, for instance -- and many have set their work in Italy,
>> Dibdin is unusual in trying to cover the entire country with
>> sociological rigor. Zen must penetrate not only the intricacies of his
>> cases but also a succession of local cultures, with their bureaucracies,
>> dialects and dueling police forces.
>> "He was really interested in exploring Italian culture," Kastenmeier
>> says, "and he was using the crime novel to do that."
>> Despite their prevailing noirish tone, the books are anything but
>> joyless. Indeed, they range from the deeply grim to the comic.
>> "He tried to make every book different," notes Tom Nolan, the Ross
>> Macdonald biographer who reviewed Dibdin's novels for the Wall Street
>> Journal. "There's one modeled on a Mozart opera. That's the kind of
>> thing really inventive people do when they write a series. His books
>> were in no way ordinary."
>> The series kicks off with an ingenious combination of tones: "Ratking,"
>> published in 1988, opens with a series of phone calls without narration,
>> as the powerful friend of a kidnapped Perugian industrialist calls a
>> Roman senator to pressure him into reviving a languishing investigation.
>> The calls move up the chain of command until Zen is dispatched to the
>> Umbrian capital.
>> It's profane, hilarious and, according to Bromley, "better than what
>> you'd find in a textbook -- the complexity and the networks and the
>> labyrinth. As the conversation climbs through the hierarchy, the
>> language changes. He could be a very funny writer."
>> Zen finds what he calls the misteri d' Italia in almost every corner:
>> After "Ratking," the series shifts to Zen's native Venice ("Dead
>> Lagoon") and then on to the Piedmont wine country ("A Long Finish"),
>> before concluding in Calabria with "End Games." The tone changes novel
>> by novel to suit each region's spirit.
>> But all the books are set in a nation of hidden power, of insularity and
>> corruption, of political extremes that stretch from communism to
>> neo-fascism. Today's Italy, Zen muses in the sinister 2003 novel
>> "Medusa," is a "new culture of empty slogans, insincere smiles, and
>> hollow promises," a country, as Bromley puts it, entirely without consensus.
>> Zen is a spectral presence in some of the books, and he often begins
>> reluctantly. "Doing his job puts him in peril," says Nolan, *who
>> compares Dibdin's wordplay to that of Lawrence Durrell and Vladimir Nabokov.
>> *
>> For Bromley, Zen is "a perpetual outsider wherever he ends up." The same
>> could be said for Dibdin: Growing up in Belfast certainly would be a way
>> to see the dangers that difference -- as well as group loyalty -- brings.
>> Dibdin taught English in Perugia as a young man and surely got a lesson
>> in bureaucracy. He made his debut in 1978 with "The Last Sherlock Holmes
>> Story" and moved to Seattle decades later to be with mystery novelist
>> K.K. Beck, his third wife. He lived like a perpetual foreign correspondent.
>> The author was no stranger to acclaim: He was consistently well
>> reviewed, and his fans included English mystery queen Ruth Rendell, who
>> called "Ratking" "both subtle and horrific," and Ian Rankin, the
>> Scottish crime novelist who said Dibdin's works led him to make his own
>> books more political.
>> But Dibdin never generated the attention in the States that he did in
>> Britain or Ireland, where his death was marked with enormous press
>> coverage and a lead Guardian editorial saying he'd done as much as
>> Silvio Berlusconi to reveal Italy's dark heart.
>> Rather, this tall, hat-wearing Brit with large appetites kept a low
>> profile in Seattle.
>> "He was a bit aloof from the industry as a whole," Kastenmeier explains,
>> "and aloof from the mystery community. He didn't relish playing the
>> games to become successful; we didn't send him on the road a lot."
>> Bromley considers Italian crime writing among the most lively in the
>> world today and thinks Dibdin helped attract international attention.
>> But it's a bittersweet consolation to know that we can read more work
>>from the country Dibdin took such pleasure in carving up, and that he
>> left 18 novels of his own.
>> Bromley imagines Zen going into retirement and taking up a hobby, much
>> as Sherlock Holmes adopted beekeeping, before boarding a train, lured
>> out of retirement for a big case. But then what?
>> "I wish Dibdin had the chance to finish the series on his own terms," he
>> says, "rather than having the Grim Reaper do it for him."
>> scott.timberg at latimes.com
>> The complete article can be viewed at:
>> http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/europe/la-et-dibdin20-2008sep20,0,5171758.story 
>> Visit latimes.com at http://www.latimes.com
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> ***************************************
> W. L. Godshalk		*
> Department of English         *
> University of Cincinnati            Stellar disorder  *
> Cincinnati OH 45221-0069      *
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