May 12, 2008

Black Dahlia

I've always been interested in the story of The Black Dahlia without actually knowing too much about it. This version was written by James Ellroy, who also wrote L.A Confidential. This book was also turned into a movie that did not do very well, for the following reason.

While this is a great book, those expecting a true crime novel or much biography concerning the Black Dahlia herself will be very disappointed. Ellroy probably should have chosen a different title in order to prevent this misunderstanding, but in truth no other title was really possible.

In this book Ellroy merged the character of his mother with the body of the Dahlia. The real Dahlia was not actually all that interesting except as a tragic victim, but his mother had led an extraordinary -and short- life that had haunted him to the degree that he needed to write about it somehow. Having grown up only three blocks from the scene of the murder, which happened when he was a baby, Ellroy's life was profoundly effected by this case. In this book he fulfills two purposes: to get his mother out of his system and to show the many ways in which the death of one simple girl had such an incredible impact on the Los Angeles of his time.

It is also written as a stereotypical detective novel, full of cigarettes and burnt coffee and insomnia. It is a very masculine book, in which women are either idolized or despised, colorful language abounds, and every physical movement is detailed complete with flying spittle and sweat and blood. Why men dwell so much on bodily fluids is beyond me.

It took a long time to get used to the language, which is heavily laced with profanity and the slang of the time. There is also quite a bit of graphic sex and violence. So this book is definitely not for everyone, but it was definitely a good read for me.

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