The Suburbs of Hell

August 16, 2007 at 8:21 am 2 comments

This poor little blog has been neglected due to holidays and sickness and frantic catching-up on work, but as this novel is work, I thought I could justify five minutes of general musings. Another Randolph Stow, published in the early 80’s. It’s the last novel he published, in fact. Though I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping he has another one tucked away in his mind, just waiting for an excuse to be written. That’s the way he does things. A bit like Mozart, he has the whole thing in his head before he starts. And then he just writes it out in four weeks flat. Pretty impressive if you ask me.

The Suburbs of Hell is a murder mystery set in a coastal town in East Anglia. I read it several years ago and remembered it very fondly, particularly the dialogue and the incredible way he catches accents and turns of phrase. Stow really listens to the way people talk, and he is a master craftsman. But I’ll have to say, that although the novel is very impressive, I was a bit disappointed on a second reading. It is more like a short story than a novel, and you have to read it slowly. It is scary, and the characters he creates are wonderfully tangible, but you never discover a motive for the killings. I think I just don’t quite get it. Maybe when I’ve written about it some more I’ll change my mind about it. Stow says he intended it as a modern ‘Pardoner’s Tale’, so maybe if I reread Chaucer’s story it will give me some clues (it’s a very hazy memory at the moment). It’s also peppered with quotes from Beowulf about ominous monsters and imminent death. A very strange book. I’m just not quite sure what to make of it.


Entry filed under: medieval, Randolph Stow.

Girl Green as Elderflower Tourmaline

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. genevieve  |  July 9, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    I can’t quite remember how I’ve stumbled across these posts of yours, Meli, though I have seen your name here and there on sondry blogges.

    The Suburbs of Hell is one Stow I’m yet to read – I have lent my copy of the bewitching Girl Green As Elderflower to my daughter, and she jolly well better not lose it! ’tis precccioussss.

    I would be most interested to read your chapter on Stow sometime, if that’s manageable? can you let me know if your PhD is published anywhere please?

    thanks a bundle,
    Genevieve Tucker

  • 2. Ahah! « northern lights  |  January 8, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    […] problem at the end of my best chapter. Ie – what to make of Randolph Stow’s very strange book The Suburbs of Hell. It’s still not my favourite of his novels, and it won’t be the most interesting point […]

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