Thursday, July 07, 2011
The Murder of My Aunt (1934) by Richard Hull
There is something Nabokovian in the juxtaposition of a sick mind's obsessions with a saner view between the two narrators of the book. Shades of Despair (first published, funnily enough, the very same year) are unmistakable - and the main character even makes a reference to unspecified murder cases on the lines of the Rouse case. But where Nabokov's murderer is deluded, this one is deluded and stupid. The latter fact is treated as funny - actually, it's what generates most of the (meagre) laughs here. But now that murder has long ceased to be an intellectual sport, and we know that murderers are, in fact, generally stupid, it's not as funny as I presume it once was. It goes without saying that the author does not possess Nabokov's command of language, and his determination to concentrate on the technical planning of things at their many various stages, rather than on the characters or atmosphere, makes the book for the most part pretty boring. The 'unguessable' and 'stunning' final twist, admired by reviewers, is in fact the only possible - or at least the obvious - twist in this kind of story, once you know that there is a twist.
P.S. The cover artist, McKnight Kauffer, turns out to have been an interesting character who did, among other things, the title designs for Hitchcock's The Lodger.
P.P.S. Incidentally, Les mantes religieuses and many subsequent Monteilhet novels are built upon the same basic plot idea.