COLUMN: Why I don’t read crime fiction

The pile of unread books on a small table in my bedroom fell over. That’s a first.

I dream of squeezing two extra secret half days into the week: one for just reading, one for just writing. A friend suggested that this was an excellent idea for a science fiction novel: someone finds a way to insert individual time into a week.  Responsibilities pause, and no one can reach you. No one, in fact, even knows or notices that you are gone. You have slid in between cracks in time.

Perhaps it would work as a premise for a science fiction novel, but it won’t help the very real  problem of struggling to fit what needs to be done into the time allocated. And if it were an idea turned into a novel, I wouldn’t even read it because I don’t read science fiction or fantasy. What’s with those stupid, unpronounceable names, anyway? Is it simply impossible to imagine an interesting story without using names like Y’Pora and Tedn Dahai, which cause the reader’s eyes to water? No one ever thought of a benign slimy, eight-eyed monster called Sue, or a zappy-weapon wielding hero called Raj?

I don’t like crime fiction either. Boy, have I taken flack for that in the current literary climate in South Africa, where it feels like every second writer is pushing crime fiction on to the market faster than it takes to read one of them. I am accused of being a literary snob, which is not the worst thing in the world to be called, but it’s not an accurate epithet in this case. I don’t read crime because I’m a ninny, a scaredy-cat, in primary school parlance.

Earlier this month, however, I was asked to read 7Days, Deon Meyer’s latest crime novel, in order to interview him at the launch of his book at Kalk Bay Books. The owner of the bookshop, Ann Donald, had asked me specifically because she knows I am not a crime fiction fan. I didn’t mind because years ago I did read a Deon Meyer crime novel and it wasn’t unbearably scary or bloody.

Meyer was more gracious about my disinterest in crime than most of my friends. He said it was true that some people didn’t like crime because of a tendency to over-empathise with the victims; because of “heightened sensitivity”. I liked what he was saying: basically, I’m too delicate a being for the hardcore stuff. Ha!2012-11-21 12.13.03

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed 7Days. It robbed me of sleep for three consecutive nights as I kept turning the pages in spite of the stern talkings-to I gave myself to stop. Friends who are fans have subsequently told me that it is not as good as his other work.

But after that I returned to more comfortable territory, reading Luminous Airplanes by Paul la Farge. I’ve just started on Deborah Levy’s Booker Prize shortlisted Swimming Home. The atmosphere she manages to create around a swimming  pool at a holiday villa in southern France is absolutely mesmerising, and the book is amusing and unsettling, and – for all that it is literary – quite as difficult to put down as Meyer’s book was.

I hardly need dream of that crack in time to slip into to read…Swimming Home  almost reads itself. And, because of that, I hope to start tackling that pile of books that is now strewn across the bedroom floor because I haven’t even had time to stack them again.

A report on the evening at Kalk Bay Books can be read here.

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