I’ve written before in passing about how hack writing pales into insignificance alongside great talent. Consider this paragraph from what purports to be a crime thriller:
Carol frowned. This wasn’t the Tony Hill she’d known all these years. Yes, he’d recently claimed he’d been changed profoundly by discovering the identity of his biological father, understanding the reasons why the man had played no role in his life, and coming to terms with his legacy. But she’d been doubtful, seeing little evidence of any change beyond the superficial decision to leave Bradfield and moved into the splendid Edwardian house in Worcester. OK, that had also meant jacking in his job at Bradfield Moor secure mental hospital, but Carol was convinced that giving up work wouldn’t last for more than a few weeks. Tony identified himself too closely with the exploration of damaged minds to abandon it for too long. There would be another secure hospital, another set of messy heads. She had no doubt of that.
(I apologise in advance for any corrections I mean errors in transcription.) Unremittingly mediocre, isn’t it? I mean, I could go on all day about its uneven idiom, its clumsy exposition, its sesquipedalian prose, its ambiguities. But the worst part of reading it is when you catch sight of the spectres of author and editor (assuming there was one) hovering over it, looking satisfied with the work, giving a curt nod to signify: “Yes. This long guff of talentless rubbish truly belongs in a modern thriller.”
Here’s the rub, though: this isn’t written by some genre hack, or team of hacks; this is from Val McDermid: apparently respected outside her genre; presumably on the strength of her writing! Stunned as I am, it’s all I can do to resist swinging open the living-room windows and bellowing into the night: “What in hell has gone wrong with the crime thriller genre?”
Darned if I know. But if Kingsley Amis chose to spend his declining years only reading this sort of stuff, then his decision looks less and less like a cheeky thumbing of the nose and the established literati, and more and more like some kind of cry for help.