The End of the Tether

It would be unwise to regard any of Georges Simenon’s three approaches to autobiography as factually accurate. Pedigree (1948) began with the writer drawing a genealogical tree of the Simenon family, but became a book that although obviously based on the writer’s childhood and adolescence in Liège, has a protagonist …

Bottoms Up

How, living inside a totalitarian state, do you write about it? One answer is that of Solzhenitsyn in Cancer Ward and The First Circle: you face it head on, making fictions almost directly out of personal experience. Other approaches, allegorical or symbolic, have landed those who made them in labor …

Thrillernik

If, as Auden suggested, the ideal detective-story reader desires an unchanging fictional world in which the same problem is endlessly repeated with minor variations, the ideal reader of a thriller demands almost the opposite, a fix of continuous novelty. The agent becomes over the years double, triple, multiple; he is …

Threats of Violence

P.D. James is a mystery writer who with her new book has abandoned mystery. She began as a writer of orthodox detective stories in the English tradition. Her first book, Cover Her Face, opened with a tea party, and offered fairly conventional characters in a rural setting. But this book …

The Heavy Fantastic

“We like to think we live in daylight, but half the world is always dark; and fantasy, like poetry, speaks the language of the night.” The rhetorical phrase that provides a title for Ursula Le Guin’s essays, notes, and speeches about fantastic fiction becomes less plausible the longer you look …

Gissing and the Cruelty of Life

In February 1888 George Gissing learned that his wife Nell, an alcoholic and former prostitute whom he had not seen for more than three years, was dead. In company with his friend Morley Roberts he went to the wretched house in Lambeth where she lived, saw the body, registered the …

The Christie Mystery

First, the life. Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born in 1891, the third child of an idle well-to-do American father, and a mother who was markedly sensitive and aesthetically perceptive. Her upbringing was unusual only in the fact that she never went to school, but instead was taught at home …

Compulsion

His life is obsessional, far beyond that of most people or most writers. Everything is arranged in advance and happens on time. He is bothered by a pencil out of place in his study, looks for the known reflection of light in a particular place on a piece of furniture, …

‘Watson, I’m Back’

The Last Sherlock Holmes Story,…well, one would like to think so. In the last five years we have had Holmes as a man of the theater and time traveler (Robert Lee Hall’s Exit Sherlock Holmes), the revival of Moriarty in a trilogy by John Gardner, and of course Nicholas Meyer’s …