Crime and narrative : violence as a master narrative in contemporary crime novels
This study analyzes crime novels written around the turn of the twenty-first century that blur the boundaries between “serious” fiction and genre fiction. I argue that these novels represent violence, not as an isolated event or action, but as a pervasive cultural logic. In other words, they frame violence as a cultural and institutional problem, instead of as a disruptive social anomaly, and they thereby expose violence as a constitutive force in a world and era in which social relations are always already mediated by the disciplinary apparatus of institutions. Novels like Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Nuruddin Farah’s Secrets, and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, draw attention to the cultural logic of violence by reproducing conventions associated with more traditional crime fiction—a crime to be solved, a “detective” figure, and the gradual revelation of clues—but these novels break with traditional crime fiction in one important way: they do not follow a trajectory of crime and punishment. Such a trajectory necessarily limits our understanding of violence to isolated actions that can be punished and to individuals who can be reformed. By breaking with the logic of crime and punishment, these novels position violence as a master narrative or as an interpretive lens that invites readers to engage in a critique of institutionalized and systemic violence. This investigation traces how this new practice of crime narrative seeks to exile readers from horizons of expectations that would ordinarily be associated with crime fiction. These contemporary novels constitute a new crime fiction subgenre: a narrative that, through the use of new conventions, forces its readers to confront the limits of canonical forms and to consider violence as a contemporary master narrative.