Smart-talking, crime-solving detective, served straight up, with some twists

3 Aug

This week, I finished my copy of the next classic bookclub choice, The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. At first, I wasn’t sure if I enjoyed his staccato style and what felt like overly deliberate dialogue. It’s one of my ongoing concerns that once you’ve seen something parodied enough times on The Simpsons, it becomes harder to enjoy. I find this with New Wave cinema; I’ve seen too many tongue in cheek homages to Godard, shot in black and white and with French plinky-plonky music that when I sit and watch the real thing, I sometimes can’t take it seriously. The same was true with this hard-boiled crime novel. The short exchanges between the characters and the cute back-talk just felt, well, too obvious and kind of clichéd. But seeing as it’s one of the originators of the noir style, it seems unfair to hold that against it. After a while, I got used to it. And then eventually, I started to enjoy it.

Written in the 1930s, I think it helps to remember what else was being read at the time. In Britain, the start of the decade saw the publication of the Waves by Virginia Woolf, whose style resides on the complete opposite end of the spectrum; her impressionistic, almost cubist, writing makes Hammett’s prose look like stark realism in comparison. 1934, the year The Thin Man was published in the States, also saw the publication of books by ‘literary heavyweights’ such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry Miller and Samuel Beckett, but it was year in which writers like Agatha Christie and John Dickinson Carr were also prolific; James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice was published, as was The Nine Tailors by mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers. In comparison to the affectations and the obscure, emotional turmoil of characters such as Dick and Nicole Driver in Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, figures such as Nick Charles and his straight-talking wife Nora must have been like a cool breath of  sharp, fresh air to readers.

And it seems that Hammett and his no-nonsense protagonist may have come back into fashion, what with recent news that The Thin Man will be adapted into a film for the first time since the 1934 movie starring William Powell. This new production will  star Johnny Depp according to this article by the Guardian, and I have also read rumours that Rachel Weisz will play Nora. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for any further news, but sounds exciting so far. What with the current nostalgia fest in the wake of Mad Men, with its visually immaculate production, a classy remake might go down extremely well.


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