literary murder

ROFL – The Elusive Question: What’s Your Favourite Book?

ROFL (Reviewing Our Favourite Literature) is a blog series intended to help you get to know the mysterious faces behind the UBC English Students’ Association. Our team will share their favourite book or author and this week we are introducing one of our bloggers, Fatima. 

“Have you ever asked yourself what works of art revolve around? Around love, sex, death, and the meaning of life; the struggle of man against his fate, against society; man’s relations with nature and with God. What else?”- Literary Murder.

Favourites are complicated. I, for one, am ridiculously undecided. Therefore, my favourites lists are often convoluted and complicated. However, I believe favourites are born when they come to at the right time with the right message. This, of course, introduces way too many variables and any favourite you ever have will be quite arbitrary. What is important is that it means something to you. That being said, my long-time favourite book has been Literary Murder by Israeli author Batya Gur. I first read this book in grade eleven for English class. It became the book that urged me to seriously consider English literature as something that might deeply interest me. To this day, I read some of its passages often just to remind myself of what is important.

Alright, first thing’s first: general plot summary (I never get to do these in essays, so I’m going to enjoy this). Literary Murder is a murder mystery on the surface. The setting: Jerusalem in the oppressive heat of the summer. Two professors in the literature department at a Hebrew University are mysteriously murdered. It’s up to Michael Ohayon, a former student of the department and current police superintendent, to solve it. He uncovers the secret lives of the professors and finds out far more than he thought he would. It’s your average set-up for a thriller. However what is interesting about this novel isn’t actually part of the mystery at all. It’s the context. The criminal investigation is conducted within a context of literary discussions. It asks questions such as: What is literature? What is good literature? How do you judge literature? Is the context of the work relevant? What makes a good writer? Who can become a good writer? What does it mean to be a writer at all? Michael interviews the brightest scholars of literature who urge him to engage in literary and philosophical debates. They force him to ask questions about the very nature of literature, to think of it as fluid and rigid, to think of it as real and abstract. Through the interviews, clues, and suspects, Michael uncovers not just the criminal, but literature itself.

For a sixteen year old who was always a bookworm, but had been told that the future was in science, reading something like this really rekindled my passions for books. This novel came to me at a time when I was still trying to figure out what literature was and if it was something worthwhile. What mattered about this novel wasn’t that it gave me answers. It was that, for the first time, it blurred what I already knew. This novel questioned the pre-conceived and force-fed notions that I had already started to develop. It challenged and then proceeded to take away everything I thought I knew. Surprisingly, that was invigorating. I think it was the uncertainty that really made me appreciate the incredible complexity of literature. Paradoxically, it cleared things up for me.

The irony of the situation was that no one in my entire class liked the novel. I can sort of see that. For a murder mystery, it was pretty dull. However, as a philosophical debate on literature, it did fairly okay.

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