quarta-feira, novembro 11, 2015

Marxist SF: "Murder on the 31st Floor” by Per Wahlöö


Published for the first time in 1964 (2011 edition read).

NB: First read in German a long time ago. This is my first reading in English.

“The Murder on the 31st Floor” starts as a spiritual murder of cultural criticism, the freedom of expression and then in the physical liquidation of the last social critics.

“The Murder on the 31st Floor” is a novel in several ways that breaks with Wahlöös earlier novels, which mostly take place in foreign dictatorships, mainly Spain and Latin America. But all his novels, from the beginning, with the football novel "Sky Goat" (1959), are power studies of various types.  

Clear archetypal elements include the crime to be solved by a solitary detective. A corrupt and painted black society belonging to the American hard-boiled crime novel and not to the usual Scandinavian Crime Fiction novel. This, juxtaposed with the dictatorial social structure and elements of social fiction, allows the novel to violate the templates of formulaic literature. Instead we can see the flowing to the surface of a leftist social criticism, which results in a scenario portraying an utopian state.

Wahlöö's approach to the SF genre is also interesting because it sets a background for the reading of his novels of the "future". It depicts how it's gone from a clear negative cultural criticism against the Anglo-Saxon translated formula literature in SF that was imported to Sweden in the 50s century to becoming a tool for social criticism in the 60s. The renewal and revitalization of the genre that many Swedish writers contributed to was probably decisive here. In Sweden, during the 60's, SF was seen as a dirty genre, therefore, the market was not ripe for Wahlöö (or for any other kind of SF writer). There is also an important literary ambition where Wahlöö uses a formulaic literature framework to create something more, a political literature where the reader becomes aware on how society really looks like. A literature heavily influenced by Marxism, where the use of the hero instead of the so-called normal protagonist is the real driver of the novel.

The majority of cultural criticism found in “The Murder on the 31st Floor” is on the weekly press and its manipulation of the people in the community.  Power structures in society appear as dictatorial interactions, like some kind of fusion between state and capital in Nazi Germany or fascist Portugal. Wahlöö has previously described similar structures in other novels. Bureaucracy seems life's antithesis in his suppression of the individual which is consistently being described as listless, dying, and anonymous in the big state apparatus. There are no living people that appear in the novel, only cardboard figures, in order to highlight an oppressive structure, in order to show us the betrayal of the consensus and social democracy of the working class. 
The final murder’s structure showcases fascism’s real face in this novel. The final chapter, all by itself, is worth the reading of the novel.


Bottom-Line: Only worth reading for Wahlöö's completists who want to understand how he dealt with social criticism in a genre other than Crime Fiction. Should this be considered SF or Crime Fiction? Without a shadow of a doubt, SF. Why? Because Wahlöö is more interested in the political stance and spare writing than in the investigative policing. At its heart this is not a Crime Fiction novel but rather a novel for the fight for intellectual freedom.

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