Thursday, July 28, 2011

Voice of the Violin, Good Morning Midnight

I finished off two very good, very different books, one from Italy (Andrea Camilleri's Voice of the Violin) and one from England (Reginald Hill's Good Morning Midnight).  In a flight of fancy, it seems to me that comparing them is a bit like comparing two cars from the respective countries, a Ferrari and Rolls.

Voice of the Violin is a no-frills, very fast ride.  In the time it takes Hill to introduce his major characters, Camilleri has his inspector solve a murder, clear an innocent victim, and take care of some personal matters on the side.  But it's also a very smooth ride; you never feel like Camilleri is riding roughshod, skipping too many details.  Partly, he achieves this with minimal scene setting -- he'll switch locations with no indication, give a conversation, then switch over to somewhere else.  Again, though, it's done very smoothly -- I never felt a sense of dislocation.  And, by the same token, the conversations are minimal -- Camilleri just gives you the relevant bits, cutting away before the parties say good-bye.

Good Morning, Midnight, on the other hand, is a very ornate and stately ride.  Hill happily throws in sesquipedalian words on a whim, luxuriating in Dalziel's turns of phrase, and giving us two locked-room mysteries for the price of one.  The book moves at a very deliberate pace; it's not so much that it's slow as that Hill wants to present all of his characters, even the minor ones, fully.  This is important here, because their different testimonies about what happened are the backbone of the novel.  In the end, this is actually a modernist take on the idea of the locked room mystery -- most of the minor mysteries are not only left unsolved, but Hill takes pains to show that it's deliberate; in the novel, truth is unknowable.  All we have are different testimonies, and we can decide how much we trust each one's reliability.

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