2 Jan 2012

Dennis Lehane

I am reading a remarkable book by the American authour Dennis Lehane. It's original title is The Given Day, although this has curiously been translated in the French edition I am reading into "Un Pays à l'Aube", which, translated back to English, would produce "A Country at Dawn". I often wonder what goes on in the minds of the publishers/translators of book titles; even more so in the case of films! Another matter to deal with at some point perhaps...

Dennis Lehane

I have previously read a couple of Lehane's books : Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone. Both are excellent, and share with The Given Day the capacity to portray with realism an era, places, and a social/political/family situation whilst telling a good story. Lehane is sometimes classified as a crime writer, which he is not, at least in the usual sense of that term. Even if his books may describe at some point criminal cases or situations, their main theme is usually an event or chain of events that fit into a social and/or problem, usually historic, and which he denounces in a way that is, to me at least, far more effective than most political writing. I remember reading him for the first time because of an article somewhere that strongly recommended three contemporary US crime writers: Lehane, Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos. I bought books by all three, and have since read many by the last two, who are indeed excellent "crime" writers, amongst the best anywhere. But Lehane is different. I was moved by Mystic River, which was made into a very good film version by Clint Eastwood. Another of Lehane's books, Shutter Island, has recently been adapted to the big screen.

You need to be prepared for a long haul when you embark on one of Lehane's books. The Given Day is all of 850 pages long in the edition I am currently reading. In this book there are several characters whose destinies come together at various points. Real, like Babe Ruth the baseball player, or fictitious like Luther Lawrence and Danny Coughlin, they all gradually gather flesh and substance as the plot unravels, whilst retaining that shroud of mystery that keeps you wanting to know more. And the story tells me more about the USA in the period towards the end and just after the First World War than anything else I have read. Boston and its area forms the geographical base for much of Lehane's writing, as indeed for that of another author whose work I have also recommended in this blog, Robert Parker, who died early in 2010 and who was very much the true blue crime writer.

The way Lehane deals with the differents layers in his characters' lives, from the personal, through the family and the work environments, all the while fitting the whole that into a general social and political landscape is just masterful. Racial, social and economic issues are there all the time, entwined with the lives and struggles of the poeple whose stories unfold, gradually, carefully and often painfully.

Lehane is a seriously good writer, so read on...