a kind of glue

I watched The Man From London. I enjoyed the drawn-out opening scene at the dock; the dance to the accordion with the chair & the billiard ball; & the man in the hat eating bony soup in the bar. I liked everything about it except the parts directly imported from Georges Simenon. Simenon always set my teeth on edge. As a teenager I wanted to get him in a corner & scream in his face, “I don’t fucking care what happens to these people!” I felt much the same about Alfred Hitchcock & Patricia Highsmith. Suspense defers narrative for the sake of it. To write suspense of that traditional, formalised kind is to play anxiety games with the reader based on values, identification & expectation. Suspense bored me because all I wanted to know was what happened, not what gluey, simplified, slow-motion psychological game it resolved; or what typical moral identifications & affiliations of my parents’ generation it was masturbating. I couldn’t make the necessary value judgements about the relationship between interior & exterior behaviour. I didn’t care enough about the ideological underpinning to feel pleasurable tension. Only a vast excruciating impatience.

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4 responses to “a kind of glue

  1. martm

    But the sidelights are always the best. Watching “American Friend” these days, I’m not gripped by Highsmith’s plot but the fact it stars Hopper and and Bruno Ganz: it’s easy to imagine it shows young Frank Booth meeting a Hitler who escaped the bunker and now leads a modest life (failed artist to the last) framing pictures. Why they insist on quoting Dylan all the time is another matter, of course.

  2. Alan

    Highsmith’s suspense was handled quite subtly I thought – see a novel like ‘The Tremor of Forgery’ where the non-arrival of post becomes almost unbearable.

    I’ve found Simenon good for grotesque detail (in the ‘hard’ novels, I’ve not read any Maigret). His characters are done for usually in the first sentence. I quite like the doomed nature that hangs over his novels.

    Hope all goes well with the new novel, look forward to reading it.

  3. Lew

    ‘Non arrival of post’ – would resonate with anybody? These things take on an importance that spans generations. I’ve known people experience a fair amount of anguish over their latest Amazon order’s non-arrival. Imagine if ‘Empty Space’ were a couple of days late…!

  4. I don’t think of suspense with Hitchcock so much as technique. Lars von Trier does ‘suspense’ very effectively, for me, to the point that the unbearableness becomes boring and I want to switch off – there’s nothing else but suspense, nothing else but ‘how much more gruesome can it get before this film ends?’ With Hitchcock, maybe it’s a bit connoisseurist, but I love watching things so economically, elegantly, innovatively made, polished here, raw there. Like good architecture. Also that misanthropic observer’s eye that doesn’t allow you to settle into identification. The fact that psychological plausibility is always stretched towards or beyond breaking point saves me the trouble of worrying about that too much either.