2 February 2017

Crime fiction is a diverse and appealing genre. It is its unique capacity to evolve and transcend contextual barriers to suit changing paradigms that has ensured its popularity throughout time. Thematically, crime fiction has motifs such as the restoration of order, good overcoming evil, human nature and the completion of justice. However, it is the subversion of these conventions which exemplify the fluidity of the crime fiction genre, and thus, its diverse and appealing nature.The extent of this can be explored in Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost, Marele Day’s The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender and The Big Sleep, directed by Howard Hawke.

Anil’s Ghost presents a post modern metaphysical detection story, holding an ambiguous perception of reality. The text subverts many of the conventions of the genre, particularly the denouement, embracing aspects of postmodernism and blurring the distinctive features of the genre that results in a novel of lyric and poetic features.The investigative figures, ‘pseudo-detectives’ Anil, notably female, and Sarath, operate outside the law in the strictest secrecy to investigate rather than to solve a crime where the accretion of evidence is a historical and scientific process. There is a realistic solving of the crime, with reliance on rational interrelation. Moreover, as traditional detectives and sleuths usually have a degree of authority, in Anil’s Ghost this is not the case, as revealed by the statement “doors that should be open are closed. ” Ondaatje’s political comment and Anil’s search for truth overturns many of the conventions of crime fiction.Through postmodern values, Ondaatje represents the changing values and attitudes of the world that include rejection of an “absolute truth”- reflected in the text’s conclusion that evades a sense of justice and closure, as the context of Sri Lanka makes this impossible.

Genre Essay Example

The text presents humanity in a contemporary context, the political turmoil of Sri Lanka, a culturally didactic novel which strives to identify the victim rather than the murderer, where crime focuses on a much larger scale than typical crime fiction texts. This exemplifies the diverse nature of this genre.The text does, however, maintain conventions, such as through Anil’s hard-boiled exterior, masculine and typical detective qualities such as quick thinking, intellect and resourcefulness. Corruption is also evident; the decay and distrust of the government is exemplified through gruesome crimes such as Gunesena, the truck driver that Anil and Sarath find crucified to the road. Mystery, although still present, does take a minor position- the secret nature of the war and the general distrust and tension between the characters creates an atmosphere of suspense.Rather, the mystery is used as a vehicle for other focuses. It allows various social commentaries on the devastation of war, of the Sri Lankan culture and of its values.

Through these, we are given insight into a society quite different to our own. The sophistication of Anil’s ghost and the techniques Odaantje used in writing it portray why this text is appealing. The disjointed style of writing and absence of sequential logic sees this post modern text push the boundaries of crime fiction.Ondaatje uses fragmented, layered and shifting voices to create levels within the text – lulled into an aesthetic atmosphere but is shattered by the breaking of the narrative. He also makes use of vivid poetic language “Sleeping in the wards, he could be only one limb of a large creature, linked to others by the tread of noises” and Sinhalenese words such as “bajaj, doya reddha” which add authenticity to the novel, making it more fluid and believable. Technique in The Big Sleep also sees an expanding of the diverse genre of crime fiction.The medium of a film combines the paranoid, surveillant investigative eye with a vision of romance.

It allowed for the hybrid of a hardboiled fiction and film noir style film which reflects the bleak nihilism of the Post-World War One era in which economic crisis, prohibition and the appearance of a “gangster” underworld, created an atmosphere of social decay. The film epitomises the “dark underbelly of American society”, ultimately depicting a morally ambiguous world that is unsure about the inevitability of justice.Various film techniques such as the use of lighting to portray a dark and shadowy world and the “oil slicked streets” and grimy city setting, satirical remarks and sexual innuendo within the film, emphasis this. However, the Hays Production Code dilutes the darkness of the hardboiled genre to some extent, resorting to the use of euphemisms, symbolism and connotations to portray the illegal and immoral. In this text, the crimes presented are a series of mysteries that create a convoluted plot line- illegal gambling, blackmail, drug abuse, pornography and several deaths.The complexity of the plot similarly allows for mystery to engage the responder- alert attention is required at all times. The nature of the detective, Philip Marlowe, the hard-drinking, morally ambiguous but also relatable detective also aims to produce a mysterious effect.

Marlowe’s background where he is clearly isolated from the law after being fired for “insubordination” implies his own code of values, supplemented by his cynical attitude and quick wit. Mystery is also created in the film through the action scenes, which almost all take place at night, in an ambience of fog, rain and mist, creating a tight feeling of suspense.The use of film noir (a development of the hardboiled genre) has a derogatory and subversive stance on American ideology. The use of greys throughout the film implies moral ambiguity as the monolinear world of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is mocked. The shadows symbolise the externalisation of the trapped character (for example Marlowe and his need to uphold masculinity), and contribute to the mystery. The use of rain, fog or sunlight contributes to the film noir and furthers Chandler’s characterisation. Romance in the film subverts from the isolation of the detective in the hardboiled genre.

It balances the lack of satisfaction gained from the film’s closure (Carmen is not brought to justice, while Taylor’s death is unanswered), in that the sexual tension is solved. This signifies that the text is more focused on character than plot. The romance presents the escapism of Hollywood, and is a medium for the showcasing of the real-life romance between film stars. The hardboiled convention of women as merely sexual objects, or victimised is subverted with characterisation of the femme fatale which is present with the powerful Vivian Sternwood, a feature of film noir.The film, however, rejects the convention of the detective rejecting or leaving the femme fatale in the denouement. Rather the film closes off with a ‘happy’ ending with Vivian and Marlowe together – while noir would not allow this; Hollywood does. Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender is a further affirmation and empowerment of women in the face of hard boiled tradition.

Day asks whether it is possible to “put a female in the hardboiled world and have her come across as a female and not as a man dressed up in sheep’s clothing” and subverts the age old formula in a masterly feminist stroke.Conventionally, women were presented as manipulative, victimised or simply distracting while men were tough and anti-sentimental. Day uses gender inversions and parody to combat these traditional beliefs. Her portrayal of a female detective who is a more complete and human character; her personality a balance of cynicism and compassion, of strengths and weaknesses, challenges the reader’s preconceptions on who can survive in the literature of crime (“She could never understand how Philip Marlowe and those guys…got shot, beaten up, and sometimes laid…without ever going to bed”).The fact that no concessions are made for her gender reinforces this. “The crims don’t discriminate anyway: they’ll blow away a woman on their trail as readily as a man. ”Her character represents a template for post-feminist women.

Traditional hard boiled generally only use sex for sensational effect; Day takes a more feminist approach. There is subtlety of the sex scenes; her detective’s toughness is allied to emotional sensitivity the story hides sub textually – another modern variation.Steve Angell, the romantic interest, plays the traditional female part, nurturing and supportive which is another socially challenging inversion. Furthermore, graphic descriptions of violence and gunplay are not part of Day’s approach, despite the hard-boiled vehicle she chooses to tell her story. Guns are traditionally male objects and can be seen as phallic symbols used by men to exercise power. Violence can be seen as a particularly male tendency and as a feminist novelist; Day is attempting to challenge this behaviour.This can be seen through that Claudia does not carry a gun but relies on high-powered karate kicks and running fast.

Day makes use of the modern technological era – a pacemaker commits the murder; Mark’s computer and computer files are at the centre of the plot, reflecting the contemporary computer culture and crime in software. The importance of setting in the hard-boiled subgenre accommodates the extent visualisation of the seedy underbelly of the city of Sydney, so much so that it in itself becomes a character, through which Day explores the issues of nature of cities and power and corruption.Through the exploration of the texts Anil’s Ghost, The Big Sleep and The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender, and their treatment and depiction of the traditional conventions of crime fiction, it can be concluded that the basic forms of each convention are seen but the traditional representation of them can be subverted, moulded to suit the context of the time. This is what makes crime fiction such a diverse and appealing genre; its ability to adapt to the values and attitudes of the time and act as a social and cultural barometer.

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