RIP Gilbert Adair (1944 – 2011)

Gilbert Adair (image: Lin Leong / Faber)

News has reached us here at Fedora that the British novelist, critic, poet, translator and screenwriter Gilbert Adair has died at the age of 66. He was born in Edinburgh on 29 December 1944 but for many years was based in France, the setting for his 1988 novel The Holy Innocents, which he adapted with director Bernardo Bertolucci into The Dreamers (2003). Films and literature were explored in witty, beguiling and often infuriating fashion in his waspish books, his imprimatur and approach perhaps best summed up by the title of his critical work, The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice (1992).

His novels touch on the work of writers such as Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust but also the detective stories of Agatha Christie, most explicitly in his trilogy featuring novelists and investigator Evadne Mount. These three books, The Act of Roger Murgatroyd (2006), A Mysterious Affair of Style (2007) and finally And Then There Was No One (2009), in which Adair appears as himself, were greeted by some (including myself here) as witty pastiches-cum-ironic critiques on Christie’s books and the formula of the  Golden Age Mystery – however many enthusiasts disliked these works intensely.

For my money, his homage to the ‘Francis Iles’ books by Anthony Berkeley, A Closed Book (1999), which he also adapted for the screen, is his finest book in the thriller mould and have included it in my Top 100 Mystery Books.

A perceptive film critic and an elegant and intelligent prose stylist, he will be greatly missed.

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7 Responses to RIP Gilbert Adair (1944 – 2011)

  1. Patrick says:

    Those who’ve read my review know how much I hated his book “The Act of Roger Murgatroyd”. I thought it was one of the worst mysteries ever written and that it was written with disdain, if not hatred, for the genre. Maybe some of his other stuff is good, but I personally couldn’t stand this particular novel and don’t plan to read any more Evadne Mounts ever again.

    However, it’s always sad to hear about someone’s death. I’m sure Adair was a nice person with many friends who will miss him, and I extend my condolences to them all.

    • Hi Patrick, 66 is no age really is it, though he hadn’t published much in the last couple of years after a stroke. I know how much you hated that book, though I really liked what Adair had to say about the genre, especially when writing about the reader’s expectations: “what generates the tension … is the reader’s fear not that the detective will fail – he knows that’s never going to happen — but that the author will fail … the ending might turn out to be, yet again, an anticlimactic letdown”. I think otherwise you would do well to steer clear of Evadne Mount, though it might amuse you to know that in the third volume Adair appears as himself and is roundly criticised by many of the characters for his books.

      I still think you might enjoy A Closed Book, very much my personal favourite, but you may also want to look at A Void his translation from the French of Georges Perec’s La Disparition which in the original completely omits the letter ‘e’ and which Adair replicated!

      • Patrick says:

        I’ve heard of it, and such a feat is really admirable to pull off!

        • I thought it might appeal, especially if you wanted to compare the original and the translation – sadly my French is quite limited so there is no way I could manage that. Part of my interest in Adair does stem from the fact that he was a serious film buff and also a real film critic and wrote some important works of scholarship, particularly Hollywood’s Vietnam (1981), which have long been on college course reading lists. Obviously this bares no relation to your feelings about his Evadne Mount books, but I thought I’d share all the same …

  2. Mary Hoffman says:

    We had a copy of his book Alice through the Needle’s Eye when our children were small and they regarded it just a third book in the series. I didn’t like the detective story either – too much in inverted commas but I admired him enormously and am very sad he has gone.

    • Hello Mary, thanks for the comments. I agree completely about the ‘inverted commas’- in many ways Adair’s output tends to feel like a sequel-cum-commentary to something else. His follow-up to Peter Pan is also a fascinating volume.

  3. Pingback: A CLOSED BOOK (1999) by Gilbert Adair | Tipping My Fedora

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