Sunday, April 19, 2015

Crimes of the Century 1936: Crim (Mercè Rodoreda)

[The crime fiction blog Past Offences runs a monthly meme devoted to a particular year in crime fiction, film, etc., and this month's year is 1936.]

Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983) is one of the most highly regarded literary novelists in the Catalan language, and as is sometimes the case with such an ambitious writer, she became sensitive about her early productions, disowning the first four novels that she published between 1932 and 1936 when she was only in her 20s. Of course, Rodoreda scholars have now become very interested in these - authors should know that disavowal never works! - and the fourth of the novels, Crim of 1936, holds special interest for historians of mystery and crime fiction. Or it would, if they had access to it. Catalan is not the most common linguistic attainment outside Spain, and as far as I can tell, the novel was never even translated into Spanish, let alone English or French, although one can always hope.

Crim is specifically a parodic take on the classic Agatha Christie-style "country house mystery," which of course was much newer in 1936 than it is today, but was apparently already firmly enough established, even slightly calcified, to be susceptible to such treatment. Since Rodoreda's parody is among the first full-blown ones the genre inspired, it would deserve attention on that ground alone.

Parodies differ in their level of spoofiness, of course. At one end, we have the 1976 Neil Simon-scripted film Murder by Death, which is pretty broad. In the same vicinity, but more literary / intellectual, is Tom Stoppard's play The Real Inspector Hound (premiered in 1968). At the other end, we have productions that are also "literary," but where the tongue is more lightly in the cheek, to the extent that one can just about take them "straight." Robert Altman's and Julian Fellowes's magnificent Gosford Park is the paradigm here, and another key example, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's The Dead Mountaineer's Inn: One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre, has practically just this minute become available in English in Melville House's Neversink Library. (Michael Orthofer of The Complete Review writes about it with his customary acuity here.) 

As far as I can make out through the limitations of my sources, none of which provide a thorough treatment, Crim falls into this latter group of "serious" parodies. A 2001 dissertation on Rodoreda's early fiction, also written in Catalan, calls Crim the "most experimental" of her works. All this is certainly enough to whet my appetite, and perhaps yours too. Perhaps Melville House or a similarly enterprising publisher is listening? Bring on Crim!

This lovingly designed website provides a nice window onto Rodoreda's literary world:

Mercè Rodoreda: Mirror Play

This article is also helpful:

Mercè Rodoreda, The Fruits of Exile

The Time of the Doves (La plaça del Diamant) (Merce Rodoreda)

Murder By Death

The Real Inspector Hound and Other Plays

Gosford Park - Collector's Edition

The Dead Mountaineer's Inn: One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre (Neversink)

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