Wednesday, March 10, 2010

P.D. James on the Potentially Liberating Effect of the Constraints and Conventions of the Detective Story

P.D. James neatly refutes the dismissal of detective stories as "mere formula writing" as follows in her new book, Talking About Detective Fiction:

One of the criticisms of the detective story is that this imposed pattern is mere formula writing, that it binds the novelist in a straitjacket which is inimical to the artistic freedom which is essential to creativity and that subtlety of characterization, a setting which comes alive for the reader and even credibility are sacrificed to the dominance of structure and plot. But what I find fascinating is the extraordinary variety of books and writers which this so-called formula has been able to accommodate, and how many authors have found the constraints and conventions of the detective story liberating rather than inhibiting of their creative imagination. To say that one cannot produce a good novel within the discipline of a formal structure is as foolish as to say that no sonnet can be great poetry since a sonnet is restricted to fourteen lines⎯an octave and a sestet⎯and a strict rhyming sequence.

James explores that extraordinary variety through the rest of the book which is essentially an idiosyncratic history of detective fiction with occasional musings about her own writing process thrown in. It makes for most interesting reading for devotees of crime fiction.


Kathleen Jones said...

Thank's Kate - I love crime fiction (and PD James) so I will be getting hold of this one as soon as I can. I also teach creative writing and this sounds one that the students would find useful too.

yearbook publisher said...

nice,i love detective stories..


Suko said...

Sounds like a fascinating book for fans of detective fiction!

Nymeth said...

Wonderfully put.

Mindy Withrow said...

I didn't know she had a new book! Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I loved her TIME TO BE IN EARNEST.