So Much Stuff I Can't Recall

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Fit of Exposition

Yesterday I started reading The Murder Room by PD James.

"PD James? She's the best-selling novelist, creator of Adam Dalgliesh, and formerly of the Home Office and other governmental posts, yes? I've heard she was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991--she was given the title in '91, I heard about it some time later."

Indeed. And while all that is true (and culled from the author bio page), it exemplifies the problem I had with the opening chapter.

"The first chapter of the book was rife with characters explaining significant backstory, plot elements, and trivia about the 1920s and '30s, wasn't it? First there was Conrad Ackroyd going on about the Dupayne Museum, said museum devoted to the art and notorious murders of the Interwar Period."

Ahem, yes.

"The Interwar Period, as everyone knows and if they didn't might have guessed from context in the preceding sentence [now third above] yet which I will explain to everyone anyway, is that period of time between the first and second World Wars (frequently cited as WWI and WWII)."

Great chunks of data are conveyed this way, paragraph after paragraph, not only by the aforementioned Ackroyd, but also, in chapter two, James Calder-Hale, curator of the aforementioned Dupayne Museum.

"If only someone -- anyone -- could give us an example!"

Okay, here goes. Dalgliesh and Ackroyd are in the museum, shouting comes from behind a closed door, door opens and a young man rushes out.
Almost at once another figure appeared standing in the doorway. He showed no surprise at encountering visitors but spoke directly to Ackroyd.

"What's it for, the museum? That's what Neville Dupayne has just asked. What's it for? I makes me wonder if he's his father's son, except that poor Madeleine was so boringly virtuous. Not enough vitality for sexual capers. Good to see you here again."
A page later, as Calder-Hale turns to go, Ackroyd asks what answer was given to Neville Dupayne, which C-H then provides.

Not all the exposition is conveyed in dialogue, for instance

"Oh, like when Dalgliesh's memory drifts back in time and across a page or so covering the history of Conrad and Nellie Ackroyd's marriage, their hobbies, their tea service, and the household help. I thought the bit on their afternoon tea was quite nice."

Yes, but

"Granted, the fact that Dalgliesh never intended to, and in fact never did, take tea with Connie and Nels, did make the whole flashback a trifle unnecessary."

Things eventually do settle down in the exposition department. I'm at chapter five now and while there's still a bit of infodumping it's broken up and spread out more. But still no murder--though from the back jacket copy it's clear who's gonna get it. (Book Two: The First Victim begins on page 113.) Those first couple chapters, however,

"It reminded me of the beginning of a rollercoaster ride where you're being pulled by a chain up a giant hill, clackclackclack, and with every clack you lunge forward against your shoulder harness then wham your skull back against the headrest, like on The Demon at Great America in Santa Clara, California -- the county seat of your hometown, San Jose -- an amusement park that was originally owned by the Marriott's hotel chain, but was sold to Paramount in the mid-80s."

Yeah. Something like that. [But not quite...

"Santa Clara is a city within Santa Clara County" proclaims your -- that is, my -- mother. "but it is not the county seat. The county seat of Santa Clara County is San Jose. (bet you knew that!)"

I didn't, but there you have it. (7/9)]

(And, yes, I'm infuriatingly jealous that I haven't written almost twenty books and can't get away with such "style" -- maybe because I'm not British, maybe because I don't have men with bushy hats and pikes (the weapon, not the fish, though I suppose those might be scary, or perhaps a sturgeon or gar, instead) to intimidate agents, editors, and the buying public. <sigh>)


5 Snarky Remarks:

A gar?

Woooo, I'm shaking in my waders.
Blogger Angie Poole, at 1:31 PM  
Don't get saucy with me, Bernaise. I think a guy in a bushy hat swinging one of
these (or this guy in general) would be quite wader-shaking. 'Course I don't brave copperheads in the yard the way some do...
Blogger Chris, at 3:16 PM  
The blood was a nice touch. I might have to sleep with the closet light on for a week or so.
Blogger Angie Poole, at 5:18 AM  
It's a shame to hear this - after seeing bits and pieces of THE MURDER ROOM as adapted for TV on PBS' "Mystery." I have been wanting to get the book. Hmm.
Blogger Chris Well, at 6:22 AM  
Ang, sorry. Thought you weren't thinking the gar a formidable foe. That guy looked like the type to have built the fish from model airplane parts, so I'm sure it wasn't real blood.

Chris, go for a library copy (or thrift store if you're okay with that). I'm sure the "case" portion of the book will be good, and the "The People and The Place" quarter of the book at least lives up to its intention. Plus, it's good exercise to formulate ideas of how you'd convey the info differently (with an eye to better, though I make no claim to being able to do that myself).
Blogger Chris, at 12:18 PM  

Get snarky