Tuesday, 12 March 2013

On authenticity / Never Cross A Vampire [books]

I've just finished reading another one of Stuart Kaminsky's Toby Peters novels, Never Cross A Vampire (click here for my review of Murder on the Yellow Brick Road) and it's got me thinking about authenticity.

This book is set in January 1942; America has entered the Second World War, and Hollywood-based private detective Toby Peters has two cases. First, someone's been threatening Bela Lugosi (whose career is really in the doldrums). Second, a theatrical agent has been shot and writer William Faulkner has been accused of the murder. Throw in a group of vampire wannabes and a beautiful widow in the best noir style and things get murky fast.

The book is obviously fiction. In his afterword, Stuart Kaminsky states, "Toby Peters does not live in the real America of the 1940s… Toby lives in the romantic/tragic/comic world of historical nostalgia. He lives in a world not with the real Bette Davis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joe Louis, Mae West or Bela Lugosi, but with the versions of these people I would like to remember." I think that's what draws me to the Toby Peters books, that nostalgia. I get the same warm, golden feeling I get from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I really enjoyed this book, with its nods to Dracula, Psycho and other classic pre-slasher horror films.

This makes me wonder why I'm already slightly nervous about the forthcoming film of The Great Gatsby. My gut reaction is: it won't be authentic. But what is? And I've already proved to myself that authenticity isn't the thing I'm drawn to, after all, I love steampunk and dieselpunk – the very opposite of authenticity – and in my real life I live a life (thankfully) very different from the women of the past. What 'authenticity' am I looking for? What authenticity is anyone into vintage looking for? I don't think any of us are about to ditch the washing machine for a tub and mangle, even in the most historically-accurate of homes. I guess I need to think hard before using 'inauthentic' as my sole reason for not liking something.

That said, I'm still never going to approve of people slapping the label 'vintage' on things that didn't exist pre-1960, whether that's tat made from old teacups or vandalised books, or clothes with nothing in common, from cloth to cut, with historic styles, just a ditsy floral fabric and a peter pan collar. I may have conceded things don't have to be authentic, but you can still keep the twee away from me!

10 comments :

  1. Yeah I find 'authentic' a bit odd. It seems to be a re-created authentic too... sometimes hyper-real (such as the insistence every women wore skirts and full make up everyday when many worked in factories wearing overalls, and would save their make up for the odd night out).

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    1. I really admire people who do the full-on one-era thing, but it's not for me! Too much discipline required to leave things out...

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  2. There would be no way I would want to give up the freedoms I have now or the technology/advances in medicine. But, in the same breath - I like to think about the past for it's simplicity and manners.

    As for "authentic" - I cannot bare the slapping of "vintage" on things (which is why i tend to say I am retro)

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    1. I get annoyed by 'vintage' things that are nothing like people would have used/done in the past. I sometimes tell myself that it's being used in a vintage-as-subculture sense, but then half those things have nothing to do with the vintage subculture either. (I am currently loathing 'vintage weddings' for precisely this reason!)

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  3. I think people tend to look to the past with rose tinted glasses and create an idealised authenticity.
    One of my favourite authors, someone who absolutely knows his thing, wrote a book set during the golden age of piracy but then purposely threw in all sorts of things which plainly were not of the time; it made it all the more fun that the inaccuracies were so obvious.

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    1. Oooh, what's the book? I love a good swashbuckler.

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    2. 'The Pyrates' by George MacDonald Fraser, the same man who wrote the tremendous Flashman Chronicles.

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    3. Oh excellent. Beastly Flashy is a favourite of mine.

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  4. I do like films to be historically accurate, I hate it when they change real events to suit a story.

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    1. Me too! It's why I can't read Conn Iggulden's Caesar books; I love a bit of Roman history but he pays sod-all attention to history.

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