Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor (1937) by Cameron McCabe

Cameron McCabe, a character in his own book, works as an editor in a London film studio where an aspiring starlet is found dead in a pool of blood. McCabe hits it off with Inspector Smith of Scotland Yard and tags along on the latter's investigation. We know where these things end. The book's reputation for striking originality (Julian Symons called it 'the detective story to end all detective stories') is based, presumably, on a couple of artificial twists which can best be described as Robbe-Grillet attempting to trump Agatha Christie. There is also a long - interminable - epilogue purportedly written by another character and analysing in detail the book and the supposed critical reactions to it, with many quotes from the actual critics of the time. Much later, in the 70s, when the author's true identity was discovered, Frederic Raphael compared him to Nabokov and others called him the father of the nouveau roman. The author himself considered The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor 'mannered and puerile', and I for one will not be dissenting from this opinion. The book is written in a horrible Americanese, deliberately aping Hemingway, with a lot of faux-snappy dialogue, and dismal wisecracks, and conversational non-sequiturs, and pukeworthy hardboiled sentimentality, and sloppy descriptions, and long-winded sentences using the conjunction 'and' countless times to moronic effect. The author, a German immigrant only just fallen in love with the English language, was allegedly not yet 20 when he wrote it. As German immigrants do, he later became a psychoanalist and sexologist, and killed himself at 80 because of an unhappy love affair.


Anonymous said...

Sorry you didn't like this book more - it was probably one of the first post-modern texts I ever read and I remember liking it tremendously as a clever subversion of the rigidities of the Gold Age Detective form. Structurally it still seems quite clever and daring for its day, though I admit it has been a long time since I read it.

polecat said...

Yes, it's definitely postmodern and in that sense far ahead of its time. Quite a curio, and I'd love to have loved it... but couldn't take the lingo.

I don't know which edition you read, but the later Penguin has a fascinating postscript which includes a long interview with the author. From the interview, I liked him rather more than from the novel, and since he himself considers the book immature, I'm now interested in his later work.