Saturday, 26 March 2011

"Serenade" by James M. Cain

Of course I have seen Double Indemnity many times, but have never read the book. The same goes for Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice, though by the way I recommend the 1946 version with John Garfield and Lana Turner. I was therefore intrigued to read Serenade, my first ever brush with the written word of James M. Cain, and it turned out to be a revelation.

Cain's writing style could best be described as a cross between Hemingway and Chandler, but that is not to suggest that he does not have a style of his own - far from it. He has a truly original voice which reaches out and grips you from the very first page, when he is describing himself seated in a sleazy Mexican bar.

This is a "crime story" only in the sense that a crime is indeed committed. It is actually much more of a love story, and a doomed love at that. The scope of the book is amazing. We do not find Hemingway or Chandler, no, nor even Hammett, who was a cultured man as Lillian Hellman's Pentimento attests, discussing the nature of opera, or the merits of Beethoven as a symphonic composer. Cain slips all this in amongst references to Hollywood film-making and life on the stage of the world's leading opera houses. The fact that they book both begins and ends amid rural poverty in Mexico may make this seem rather strange, but in fact it works brilliantly.

I was hugely impressed by this book, and would recommend it to anybody, no matter what their interests. Needless to say, most of his 18 books are out of print, but I will be adding Cain's name to my wish-list when visiting second hand book shops.

No comments: