8th Sep 2011
The Legacy by Kirsten Tranter
The Legacy is a timely offering from publisher of the year 2011, Quercus, appearing in the shadow of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
There has been much produced surrounding the events leading to the day when the world stood still and gaped, Chris Morris’ Four Lions being one such formidable interpretation. This book dwells on the aftermath.
There is no shortage of crime writing out there and not all of it good. Ubiquity can have a perverse effect and for this reason I have skirted Stieg Larsson from the same publishing stable.
Kirsten Tranter grew up in Sydney, where the novel begins. The daughter of acclaimed Australian poet John Tranter, Kirsten lived in New York – the main backdrop for the novel – from 1998 to 2006. This period straddles the time when two towers became none.
Quercus make no secret of Tranter’s inspiration from Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady (published in 1881), which in turn inspired T S Eliot’s poem (1915) and its publisher Ezra Pound to pen Portrait d’une Femme.
And who can omit modernist William Carlos Williams’ depiction of appletree thighs in his homage to James and Renaissance beauty? Clearly the legacy of Portrait of a Lady is as engrained in literature as are the endlessly repeated clips of the planes disappearing into those towers.
The book is set in the late 1990s and written through the eyes of law student Julia who is in love with Ralph. Regrettably – and a lot of wine is drunk because of this, Ralph’s interest is purely platonic because he is fixated with his cousin, heiress Ingrid Holburne.
Everyone is mesmerised by beautiful Ingrid, the classics undergraduate. We’ve all met someone like her, that rarest truffle, the priceless essence that can never be bottled or afforded. Everyone wants a piece of her, yet does anyone really know her?
With ailing Ralph lounging in splendour at Kirribilli (touches of Brideshead here), an Aunt in the wings and money in the air, there are very obvious parallels with the book from which Tranter derived inspiration.
Tranter explores the insecurities of early adulthood, the testing of friendships in a university environment. The Legacy is a grunge/middle-class cocktail but while very readable doesn’t quite have the makings of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
I relished the exploration of New York’s fickle and flamboyant art scene via the character of child prodigy Fleur. I felt my skin crawl as I became greater acquainted with the character of Gil Grey, as he honed in on the object of his passion and was reminded of The Smiths’ lyrics: “You can pin and mount me like a butterfly”.
Julia does overwhelm a skillfully plotted mystery. Dispatched by Ralph to sate his lovesick curiosity and allay her own fears we are entreated to rich descriptions of New York beyond 9/11, the bars, the bagels. Using men for stepping-stones, Julia is hell-bent on getting to the bottom of the mystery. People can’t turn into dust, or can they?
Tranter’s debut has been hailed as a literary triumph and the prose very much reminds the reader of Raymond Chandler. You can picture a silhouette in a doorway, a coil of cigarette smoke, the rain on a car bonnet, and every nuance of film noir.
The current vibe for crime thrillers remains unsated. I’ve counted three TV dramatisations of Wallander, a shortlived but very easy on the eye Aurelio Zen, a brush with Sicilian cop-cum-gourmand Montalbano and now screenings of Spiral.
Fans of The Killing are poised for Sarah Lund’s imminent return to screen, Nordic knitwear et al. Fans of all of these might like to forego the forensics for a less bloody, psychological ride.
Recommended for: Those who like a bit of armchair travel, tease and unease.