The Politics of Thrillers

Art Taylor reviewing Banquo’s Ghost in the Washington Post:

So which is more successful? Hard-hitting action or discreet diplomacy? Readers looking for sheer suspense will be better served by picking up “Banquo’s Ghosts.” But for others, myself included, a novel’s merit might well be judged less by the swiftness of its plot than by the breadth and generosity of its perspective. While “Banquo’s Ghosts” subordinates character to thesis and frequently demonizes those Iranian baddies, “The Increment” seeks to paint a full portrait of its young scientist — charting his hopes and fears, plumbing the motivations behind his shifting allegiances and dangerous betrayals. Where “Banquo’s Ghosts” races toward panic in the streets, a more richly emotional climax takes place in “The Increment.” It may lack fireworks, but it bears the hard weight of both political and personal history and recognizes the seriousness of what might come next.

Now it strikes me that the above is perilously close to preferring a book for its political perspective.  Sure, Taylor seems to be saying, Banquo’s Ghost is more exciting but its politics are dangerous so I couldn’t really enjoy it.

Or I am over-reacting and this is just an instance of a reviewer preferring a more literary style to their thrillers? What do you think? As background, here is my review of Banquo’s Ghost.

And here is a question to discuss does politics get in the way of your enjoying a good thriller?

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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1 Comment

  • Hi, Kevin —
    Thanks for the commentary above in response to my review in the Post today — and for your own fine review of Banquo's Ghosts. I think your question here is a good one, and I was particularly aware of how easy it would be to read and evaluate these books solely in terms of their political perspectives. Recognizing that, I did try to take special care *not* to judge them too much based on my own political leanings. At the same time, however, I also tried to represent each book's political perspectives to some degree; like you said, I think that conservative readers will particularly enjoy some of the liberal jabs of Banquo's Ghosts, so why not explain that that's part of the approach of that book?

    My problem, ultimately, was an aesthetic one, though maybe inevitably intertwined with the political angling; in Banquo's Ghosts, I felt as if the political message overdictated both character development and plot decisions — not just a layering of those liberal jabs but also a level of didacticism that would, in my opinion, ultimately risk diminishing *any* novel, whatever its political leanings, and which proved particularly heavy-handed here. Ignatius's book, on the contrary, seemed to put story and character first, making for a richer and more complex reading experience. In short, it was the aesthetics that won me over, not the politics, however connected those aspects of each book ultimately were. And it IS tough to distinguish between the two; is "demonizing baddies" a conservative tendency, for example, or just weaker writing than crafting a complex, multilayered villain? Does painting that aspect of the book as a negative inevitably make it look as if I'm making a political statement, no matter what?

    I think these are good questions, and a provocative ones — ones worth thinking about and worth talking about, and I'm glad to enter into the conversation here, and appreciate your letting me ramble on in response.

    Art Taylor

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