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Anjili Babbar, Finders: Justice, Faith, and Identity in Irish Crime Fiction

Thierry Robin
p. 183-185
Référence(s) :

Anjili Babbar, Finders: Justice, Faith, and Identity in Irish Crime Fiction, Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 2023, 274 p.

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1In a recent interview, Anjili Babbar declared:

  • 1 Anjili Babbar, interview with Molly Odintz, “On the Rise of Irish Crime Fiction”, 21 September 2023 (...)

Some of the grittiest, most socially relevant crime fiction is currently coming out of Ireland, which I think is fascinating because the genre didn’t really take off there until the twenty-first century. I wanted to explore this late renaissance – what caused it, and how it paved the way for a novel, idiosyncratic approach to the genre.1

That is precisely what her book deals with. It explores recent Irish crime fiction trying to identify and account for its specifically Irish dimension within a broader and quite successful universal genre. Her corpus encompasses the whole island. It includes authors from both the Republic and Northern Ireland, while keeping in mind the traditional landmarks inherited from the United States hard-boiled (from Dashiell Hammett to Raymond Chandler) and the British canonical references. These actually frame the whole study – Arthur Conan Doyle is mentioned p. 15 and Agatha Christie’s name comes up p. 211. Overall, Babbar discusses eleven contemporary Irish crime fiction authors in depth, while quoting from and criticising literary authors such as John Banville or Colm Tóibín. This probably constitutes the first refreshing quality of the book – its ability to show the literary quality of much of the noir fiction which is available nowadays in Ireland, a country where literature, under the aegis of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, has long been a serious topic calling for serious scholarly and conceptual methodology and tools.

2Babbar’s take on the genre questions aesthetics and identity categories through three prisms, which are developed throughout the three parts which make up the book. The first one explores authors from the Republic, namely Ken Bruen, John Connolly, Alex Barclay and Tana French. Essentially, it elaborates on connections between the past and the present, gender, religion and – to use an umbrella concept – identity. It very aptly underlines a postcolonial paradox, which is that “Irish crime writers have more difficulty abandoning a faith that, until recently, was viewed as the alternative to forces of oppression” (p. 65). Quite interestingly, Babbar ties up this questioning of the legacy of Catholicism with the very possibility of social progress. “None of the authors […] in this chapter posits modernity as inferior to the past. […] [To them] in order to progress effectively, the past must be considered and addressed in a manner that is neither sentimental nor dismissive” (p. 66).

3Part 2 is exclusively about the Six Counties. It is probably the most predictable bit in the study since, to a foreign readership, more often than not, the very word Ireland is stereotypically associated with – not to say bluntly reduced to – the Troubles and the ensuing peace process, that is the period after 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Adrian McKinty’s maverick Sean Duffy, Brian McGilloway’s more sedate Lucy Black and Claire McGowan’s forensic psychologist Paula McGuire all point towards notions of justice and truth which are seldom easily attainable (if at all), and certainly alien to any manicheism. Again, what is worth noting is the parallels drawn with literary writers such as Martin Amis or Nick Hornby (p. 96), whose multifaceted work echoes the labyrinthine nature of evil and trauma. Revealingly, the last two chapters in this part are entitled “Borders” and “Bridges”, which may be found unexpectedly within communities and not necessarily only in the alleged chasms separating them. As when Babbar quotes from McGilloway, who reminds us:

I suppose the point was that during the violence here, people were encouraged into tribalism. It suited politicians and some clergymen to encourage certain perceptions of the “other” as a way to ensure blind faith from their followers. The end of the violence here and the […] change of heart about their one-time enemies some of our leaders exhibited, when they got a taste of power simply highlighted the fact that, for 30 years, they’d been […] selling a message that suited them to achieve their own personal aims. But when you start a fire like that, it’s hard to control it again. The other problem here […] was that the end of violence was presented as bringing financial improvement for all. (p. 109)

  • 2 Maurice Goldring, Renoncer à la terreur, Monaco, Éditions du Rocher, 2005.

Babbar sheds convincing light on these moral aporias and dilemmas in a way which is incidentally redolent of Maurice Goldring’s clever political analysis of double dealing and fool’s bargains as soon as violence, identity dynamics and power are connected, especially in his remarkable and still valid Renoncer à la terreur (2005).2

  • 3 See Brian Cliff, Irish Crime Fiction, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018 along with Elizabeth Mannion (...)

4Eventually the final part of the study logically focuses on redemption. It does so through stories involving complex mafia-like figures, be they local types like Clark Wallace in Gerard Brennan’s Disorder (2018), or Bull O’Kane in Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast (2009) or a more transnational stereotypical Russian villain like Oleg Volchek in Steve Cavanagh’s The Defense (2016). All of these allow Babbar to demonstrate the elusiveness of a litany of bywords turned into trite clichés in modern politics and pseudo-democratic spiel and lingo: those of alleged transparency, justice and truth. More precisely, in this tightly written book on Irish crime fiction, we must celebrate one crucial demonstration, namely that we are far from being done with postmodern aesthetics. It is egregiously observable and productive in all literary endeavours – be they popular or “literary” as in John Banville’s – broaching subjects as deep and universal as human nature or evil. Babbar’s conclusion on Eoin McNamee’s true-crime Blue Trilogy (The Blue Tango, 2001; Orchid Blue, 2010; Blue is the Night, 2014) is highly enlightening in that respect. She reminds us that Irish crime fiction often takes the shape of unanswered questions and reflects a profound uncertainty deriving from proliferating competing collective narratives. Following Brian Cliff’s recent brilliant contributions to the study of Irish noir,3 Babbar’s own take on the genre superbly anatomises the “quixotic” (p. 204) dimension of good contemporary crime fiction in general and emerald noir in particular.

5To cut a long story short, this book will prove both helpful and insightful for confirmed scholars and students alike. For the latter, in addition to a hefty bibliography, the inclusion of two precise timelines – one p. 221-224 concerning the abuses of power in Church-run institutions of Ireland, the other p. 225-227 on the Troubles in Northern Ireland – will doubtless provide a convincing springboard for a thorough enhancement of a better understanding of one of the most stimulating aspects of today’s Irish culture.

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Notes

1 Anjili Babbar, interview with Molly Odintz, “On the Rise of Irish Crime Fiction”, 21 September 2023, online: https://crimereads.com/anjili-babbar-on-the-rise-of-irish-crime-fiction.

2 Maurice Goldring, Renoncer à la terreur, Monaco, Éditions du Rocher, 2005.

3 See Brian Cliff, Irish Crime Fiction, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018 along with Elizabeth Mannion, Guilt Rules All, Syracus, Syracuse University Press, 2020.

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Référence papier

Thierry Robin, « Anjili Babbar, Finders: Justice, Faith, and Identity in Irish Crime Fiction »Études irlandaises, 49-1 | 2024, 183-185.

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Thierry Robin, « Anjili Babbar, Finders: Justice, Faith, and Identity in Irish Crime Fiction »Études irlandaises [En ligne], 49-1 | 2024, mis en ligne le 28 mars 2024, consulté le 28 mai 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/etudesirlandaises/18362 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/etudesirlandaises.18362

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