If you’ve spent a couple of years being unable to get past the opening chapter of one of the later novels of Henry James, it’s hard to resist the idea that there might be a more easily enjoyable version of literature: a crime novel, for example. After all, quite a few literary masterpieces spend much of their turgid wordage being almost as contrived as any crime novel you’ve ever raced through. On page thirteen of my edition of The Wings of the Dove, Kate Croy is waiting for her father to appear. “He had not at present come down from his room, which she knew to be above the one they were in…” But of course she knew that; knew it so well that she wouldn’t have to think about it; she is only thinking about it so she can tell us. If a narrative is going to be a clumsy as that, can’t it have some guns?
Read the rest of Clive James on crime fiction.