Tuesday, 30 June 2009

"The Song is You" by Megan Abbott

I recently read Megan Abbott's first novel, Die a Little, and enjoyed it so much that I have been saving up my review copy of The Song is You for as long as I could. I finally read it this weekend while on a trip to Madrid.

It is difficult to describe Abbott's writing without going over the top. Suffice it to say that I think she is probably the most stylish crime writer now writing, and possibly for quite some time. Her period and setting is post-war America, and her style clearly influenced by Raymond Chandler. How about this?

"He tried to decide if this Adair girl was attractive or not. He thought so when he first spotted her in the newsroom, breasts like hard little peaches against her tailored suit. Big cow eyes and a firm mouth. Legs that worked coming and going.

But something in the way she spoke seemed like each word she uttered sent out a hundred-yard stretch between them. Or like she was behind a pain of glass. And not in a way that made him want to rap on it, asking for admittance."

All the more remarkable when you think that Abbott is a woman and that here she has got comprehensively and credibly inside the head of her male protagonist.

The story is simply told. "Hop" Hopkins, a lowly Tinseltown reporter, helps cover up the disappearance of a girl for a Hollywood studio and gets himself a publicity job at the studio as reward. Two years later the story resurfaces and he sets out, somewhat dubiously, in search of the truth. In the process he also finds out things about himself, and is forced to make a choice between "good" and "bad", though these are much too absolute terms to be used in Abbott's deliciously grey amoral world. The plot sounds corny, but does not come across that way. In Abbott's skilfull hands it grips and draws us in.

The scene-setting is audacious yet succeeds brilliantly. Real and fictitious characters blend seamlessly, and the latter are obviously well-researched. I thought I knew a lot about Hollywood of the 40s and 50s, but I never realised that Dick Powell was Barbara Stanwyck's husband (though I suppose their respective heights should have suggested something of the kind).

As you may have gathered by now, I think Megan Abbott is one of the most talented and original writers to burst onto the scene for quite some time, and I sincerely recommend you to go out and find anything by her you can get your hands on.

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