Sunday, September 19, 2021

My hero / Elmore Leonard by Philip Hensher


Elmore Leonard

My hero: 

Elmore Leonard by Philip Hensher

Leonard's many crime novels will find a lasting place in history because he knew how to make words sing


Philip Hensher
Friday 23 August 2013


"F
uckin' endings, man," Get Shorty concludes. "They weren't as easy as they looked." When Elmore Leonard died this week, the Mozart of profanity, the Cole Porter of the word "motherfucker", he left the world as easily secure of a lasting reputation as any novelist in history. What makes a novelist last is the music they make – not their social concern, not the importance of their subjects, not the utterances they make. PG Wodehouse has lasted where AJ Cronin faded. Silliness, absurdity and the utmost triviality are no barriers; novels about nothing more than the squire's daughter marrying the squire's neighbour last forever, if they sing.

Or a novel about drug dealers butchering their way through their rivals, if they apparently know how to say "motherfucker" with the sharpest timing. Fans of rival crime novelists to Leonard mention their profundity and depth of analysis. That's all very well, but it overlooks one thing: they can't write as well. Next to the exquisite prestissimo of Freaky Deaky, even James Ellroy seems to be wearing mittens as he sits at the piano keyboard.
Leonard half observed and half invented ways of talking. When Dennis's girls remark on the first page of Tishomingo Blues that they loved his diving, "but wasn't it like really dangerous?", we know them. The whole plot of Mr Paradise is contrived, you feel, so that the downtrodden houseboy can turn at the end and say, "I told you, this ain't your bidness" as he departs to wreak vengeance.
I discovered him in a borrowed flat in Berlin where a copy of Tishomingo Blues had been left lying around. Pretty soon, I didn't want to leave the flat, and Robert Taylor was giving the history of his life. "I took 18 semester hours of history – ask me a question about it, anything, like the names of famous assassins in history. Who shot Lincoln, Grover Cleveland." Leonard is going to live forever, and his 45 novels will be enshrined in the pantheon when the books we now claim to be profoundly moved by are profoundly forgotten, for ever.



2009
001 My hero / Oscar Wilde by Michael Holroyd
002 My hero / Harley Granville-Barker by Richard Eyre
003 My hero / Edward Goldsmith by Zac Goldsmith
004 My hero / Fridtjof Nansen by Sara Wheeler 
005 My hero / Mother Mercedes Lawler IBVM by Antonia Fraser

007 My hero / Ernest Shepard by Richard Holmes
008 My hero / JG Ballard by Will Self
009 My hero / Alan Ross by William Boyd
010 My hero / Ben the labrador by John Banville

011 My hero / Vicent van Gogh by Margaret Drabble
012 My hero / Franz Marek by Eric Hobsbawm

2010

017 My hero / Jack Yeats by Colm Tóibín
018 My hero / Francisco Goya by Diana Athill
019 My hero / Max Stafford-Clark by Sebastian Barry
020 My hero / Arthur Holmes by Richard Fortey

036 My hero / Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban
037 My hero / Beryl Bainbridge by Michael Holroyd
038 My hero / Charles Schulz by Jenny Colgan
039 My hero / Oliver Knussen by Adam Foulds
040 My hero / Annie Proulx by Alan Warner

041 My hero / David Lynch by Paul Murray
042 My hero / Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford
043 My hero / Anne Lister by Emma Donoghue
044 My hero / Jane Helen Harrinson by Mary Beard
045 My hero / Edmund Burke by David Marquand
046 My hero / Shelagh Deleaney by Jeanette Winterson
047 My hero / Christopher Marlowe by Val McDermid
048 My hero / Gwen John by Anne Enright
049 My hero / Michael Mayne by Susan Hill
050 My hero / Stanley Spencer by Howard Jacobson

051 My hero / William Beveridge by Will Hutton
052 My hero / Jean McConville by Amanda Foreman
053 My hero / Alexander Pushkin by Elaine Feinstein
058 My hero / Cy Twombly by Edmund de Waal

2011
079 My hero / Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman
087 My hero / Alberto Moravia by John Burnside
096 My hero / Isaac Babel by AD Miller
097 Lucian Freud by Esi Edugyan
100 Thomas Tranströmer by Robin Robertson
102 My hero / David Hockney by Susan Hill

2012

190 My hero / Iris Murdoch by Charlotte Mendelson
194 My hero / René Descartes by James Kelman
199 My hero / Albert Camus by Geoff Dyer

2015
2016


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