The Humber Mouth
Hull Literature
Festival 2002

Hull Literature Festival 2002 
 the humber mouth  14th - 24th November 2002


Tariq Ali

An Evening with Jon Ronson

Weird Sisters Get Around

The Man with the Flower in his Mouth

Reality TV-How Real is Real?

Pete McCarthy

The Vagina Monologues

Reading the Metre

Robert Edric

Canongate Crime

General Enquiries:
City Information Service
at Hull Central Library
Tel: 01482 223344
E-mail: [email protected]

{ Critical Eye � on-line critic }
Diane Dubois

Robert Edric
Central Library, 14 November

Novel reading is usually a very solitary practice. That mysterious, intimate interaction between the reader and the written word typically takes place in the privacy of one's own home. To witness a public reading by an author of prose fiction can therefore be a strangely unsettling experience. On the one hand we are privileged to hear the words spoken to us by the person who committed them to paper. On the other, we are disoriented by this weird collision of public and private spheres. So it was on Friday night, when a sadly scanty group gathered together to hear Robert Edric.

Edric is an affable public speaker. Declining the offer of a lectern, he opted instead for an amiable chat delivered from the comfortable unpretense of a chair. He comes across as a warm, magnanimous and thoroughly decent sort of chap, with a bagful of witty, often self-deprecating anecdotes and a head full of literary knowledge and expertise-a sort of Allan Titchmarsh of crime fiction. Then, as he dips into his book and begins to read to us, a dramatically different, altogether darker persona emerges. Reading from Peacetime, his novel set on Spurn Point just after the Second World War, Edric gently offers us his subtle, enigmatic and visually meticulous prose. His language has about it a voyeuristic vividness that is almost filmic in its ability to evoke the landscape, yet it appeals to senses beyond the purely visual. One can hear the soft rustle of sea grass, smell the tang of salt in the air, feel the sands shift beneath the soles of the feet.

Despite this appeal to the senses, Edric's writing is remarkable for its surprisingly understated quality. Everything seems eerily resonant, almost inconsequential, forcing its audience to wonder at what each phrase might mean.

Edric closes his novel and lays it on the table next to him. The sense of unease he has created hangs heavily on the silence in the room. Then, he flashes us his big grin, and returns to his former, friendly persona. He regales us with a few more quips, and introduces his next reading. We know we are in for a rare treat as Edric produces not another book, but a manuscript. This, he explains, is work in progress-part of a trilogy of detective novels to be set in present-day Hull, which he is to deliver over the next three years. He reads to us from the first of the trilogy, Cradle Song. Typically Edric-style themes emerge: in a landscape of demolition and renovation, a strange blend of callousness and innocence is concocted, and young people are written off as lost causes. All of this is offset against a relentless humanism, a tenacious need to minutely examine details, the relevance of which remains unclear. What emerges is a maverick, loner's morality expressed through he gaze of the reluctant voyeur. It is this, taken together with a detective whose work is part reason, part guesswork, part chance that enables Edric's work to be labelled Chandleresque.

Nevertheless, Edric resists labels that others would put upon him. There are crimes in his novels, he explains, yet he is not a crime writer as such. He sets much of his work around Yorkshire and Humberside, but has also located his fiction in New York and the Congo. Indeed, much of his writing seems to defy any attempt at neat classification or categorisation.

Despite this, one cannot turn a deaf ear to the sound of clues softly clicking into place in Edric's fiction, nor the slow satisfaction drawn from this. It is this gradual drawing together of fragments that is one of the chief pleasures to be gained from detective fiction, and surely must account for a large part of the genre's popularity.

However, beyond the simple gratification of the puzzle solved lies a more profound human need to believe that, beyond the seemingly random and possibly meaningless surface detail lies some sort of pattern or purpose. This human-shaped order forms itself out of the chaos, and stands as an affirmation that the world can, and does make some sort of sense. In Edric's work, the reader experiences less of an inevitable march towards one big climax, and more of a yearning and gradual turning towards something glimpsed but imperfectly grasped. The pieces are drawn together, but the pattern revealed is not necessarily reassuring or comforting, and may well be at least as troubling and disturbing as the fragments from which it is built.