Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reading and writing: vicarious pleasures

Current (work) reading is Gregg Hurwitz's latest, a boilerplate but workmanlike thriller full of obligatory Blackhawks, persons rappelling down the walls of apartment blocks to break in through the hero's balcony when they could just as easily have knocked, mobile phones packed with sophisticated explosives (I was about to text the Bloke to ask him what C4 was when the terrorist answered the cellphone and his head blew up, thus saving me 17 cents or whatever texting costs these days), stalkers with fancy Kodak film in their expensive long-lens cameras, seventeen-year-old virgin boys sneaking out at the dead of night to have sex with ripe barmaids on baseball mounds -- you know the kind of thing.

Anyway, at one point the hero, who is naturally in dreadful trouble with powerful but unidentified persons (Hurwitz knows his genre pretty good) goes to see his ex-girlfriend, for whom he still (of course) carries a torch and who is (wouldn't you know) gorgeous in an exotic way.

Slotted into the driveway next to Induma's recreational Range Rover was her Jag, a nice old-school one ... Her house, a done-to-a-turn Craftsman backing onto the murky Venice canals [that's Venice, California -- ed.], lit up in greeting as I strolled through the waist-high bamboo lining the walk. Less than a block from the beach, the air had a pleasing sea-dirty tint ... the lights, with their high-tech sensor pads, continued to illuminate my walk in segments until I was on the porch. Induma loved her technology.

Where Induma gets her money from remains a mystery to me thus far, as does the question of whether all this product placement has always been there in fiction or whether we ought to blame Bret Easton Ellis in the wake of American Psycho, though of course here it is done without irony or any other form of implicit critique.

But as I read this paragraph and contemplated my own seven-year-old Hyundai (tastefully decorated with bird poo) in the driveway, my one porch light whose sensors haven't worked since I first changed the bulb, my heart-of-darkness backyard with the waist-deep thistles and nettles, and my little old house packed to the rafters with the assorted detritus of a two-cat household and an extremely booky and papery life in which the housework habitually drifts to the end of the To Do list, I thought of a very different writer of crime and intrigue and was reminded of what a comfort it is to write about comfort, and how one of the great delights of writing fiction is that you can give your characters anything they want. Not to mention anything you want.

So here's Dorothy L. Sayers, in an article called 'How I Came to Invent the Character of Lord Peter Wimsey' (a title I am confident was foisted upon her by her editor) and in which the above question about product placement is duly answered, on the pleasures of writing about Lord Peter Wimsey:

Lord Peter's large income (the source of which by the way I have never investigated) ... I deliberately gave him ... After all it cost me nothing and at that time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him. When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly. When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet. When I had no money to pay my bus fare I presented him with a Daimler double-six, upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull I let him drive it.


The Devil Drink said...

Of course sometimes fanatasists of the good life go too far---I'm talking about you, James Frey.
BTW, "ripe"? Those seventeen-year-old virgins get regularly and rightfully thrown out onto the street for squeezing the merchandise, testing some poor harassed barmaid's "ripeness" as if she was a squishy avocado and not a hospitality professional.
What did she ever do?

Pavlov's Cat said...

I can't actually promise that Hurwitz actually uses the actual word 'ripe'. But that is unmistakably the gist.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't it Ian Fleming who started the product placement thing?