Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Creative degeneration

I only came across Derek Raymond recently. And by recently I mean last week. Since then I've read four of his novels, which I found compulsive (clearly). I was always going to love them, since they're set in shitty bits of London like Soho and Hammersmith and are more or less morbidly obsessed. The nameless hero works for A14, the Department of Unexplained Deaths, out of a Poland St. police station known as "The Factory". In each of the books he's assigned to an appalling murder or murders, which he investigates using a combination of intelligence and rudeness. And in each of the books he ends up not just investigating a death, but Death. Raymond spent the 50s living in Paris you see.

The first one "He Died with His Eyes Open" is brilliant. The second "The Devil's Home on Leave" is still extremely good. The third "How the dead live" is getting a bit silly. And the fourth "I was Dora Suarez" is basically embarrassing.

There's something about the first one that is like the excitement of a major discovery, not just for the reader, but the author. It's not that the later books don't have the same things in them, it's just that by then a formula has been established. And I wonder if this general truth for artists - that buoyed up by their own talent they can do things that they never thought were possible and its this that's exciting for us as readers or viewers sensing it vicariously. But once they realise they can do it, doing the same thing has no thrill, for them or for us. It just starts to look like they can't be bothered any more.

This is true of lots of people whose work I really admire. Something similar happens to Patrick Hamilton and seems to have happened to my favourite rapper Kool Keith.

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