November 21, 2014
Isabel Allende sorry for remarks about mystery novels
The million-selling author, whose latest book, Ripper, is a thriller that updates the story of Jack the Ripper, angered many when, during a recent interview with NPR, she said that her novel was a “joke.”
During a telephone interview yesterday with The Associated Press, Allende said her comments themselves were a joke, a joke that didn’t work. She said she had great respect for mystery fiction and noted that she was married to a mystery writer, William C. Gordon.
“Sometimes my humour doesn’t come through,” Allende explained, adding that she was trying to be self-deprecating. “I am so sorry that I wasn’t clear. I take my writing very seriously and I have tried many genres and I’ve always done it in a very serious way.”
Best known for such works of magical realism as The House of the Spirits, Allende was interviewed last month for NPR’s All Things Considered. Allende said on the programme that she was “not a fan of mysteries” and that she had a hard time connecting to some of the recent best- sellers.
“It’s too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there’s no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people,” she said. “So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke.”
The owner of a Houston store, Murder By The Book, was so offended by the NPR interview that she sent back copies she had ordered of Ripper. Allende has emailed a letter to the owner, McKenna Jordan, saying that her remarks were an attempt at a “lighter tone” during a “gruelling book tour” and that she treated Ripper no less seriously than her other novels.
“For Ripper, I worked an average of 10 to 12 hours a day, writing, researching, rethinking, reworking for six months, seven days a week, until I felt satisfied with my final draft,” she wrote in the letter, which Allende’s publisher, HarperCollins, shared with the AP. “And then I edited for three more months afterward. It was truly no joke for me.
Jordan, speaking by phone yesteday to the AP, said she appreciated that Allende had written to her, but called the apology “halfhearted and self-serving.
“She was probably pushed into the apology by her publisher,” said Jordan, who has no current plans to restock the book. “I understand she may have had a bad day when she spoke to NPR, but when you’re doing a national interview, you don’t have the opportunity to have a bad day.”
Allende, 71, is one of the world’s most popular novelists, and her comments were hurtful in part because they are so familiar to the communities of mystery, romance and other “genre fiction” that have a long history of feeling dismissed by advocates of “literary” fiction. “The whole heart of the matter is that Allende said publicly the same things that have often been said privately,” Jordan said.
The lines between “commercial” and “literary” fiction have blurred often in recent years, with such prize-winning authors as Thomas Pynchon and Michael Chabon writing detective stories and such “genre” authors as Ray Bradbury and Elmore Leonard receiving honorary National Book Awards.