Academic journal article Chasqui

Feminizing the Detective Novel: Marcela Serrano's Nuestra Senora De la Soledad, the Neo-Policial and the Creation of Feminine Spatial Poetics

Academic journal article Chasqui

Feminizing the Detective Novel: Marcela Serrano's Nuestra Senora De la Soledad, the Neo-Policial and the Creation of Feminine Spatial Poetics

Article excerpt

Of the many discourses of narrative being practiced either tangentially or exclusively by writers all across Latin America from the end of the last century, crime or detective fiction emerges at the forefront amongst a diverse collective of authors. To illustrate this point, one only needs to list the names of established contemporary writers who, at some point in their career, have succumbed to the temptations of the detective novel and have published one or more works that incorporate enough discursive elements to identify them as detective stories. (1)

In particular, women authors like never before are not only experimenting with detective fiction and the unique narrative strategies that it offers, but ,are carving out new paths for the genre. (2)

Margaret Kinsman refers to this revitalization of detective fiction when she states that "the [detective] genre has a great vitality at the end of this century, enjoying a second "Golden Age" of reader popularity, publishing success, and critical acclaim." Furthermore, she claims that "it is women writers, protagonists and readers who play key roles in defining the vigor and variety to be found in today's crime fiction novel [...]" (5).

In Hispanic literature, we see this same revitalization of the genre happening and, again, it is largely due to the contributions of women writers across the Spanish speaking world. (3) One recent case that illustrates not only the draw of detective fiction writing on Latin American women novelists but also their innovative approach to the genre is the 1999 novel Nuestra Senora de la Soledad by Chilean author Marcela Serrano. (4) As Kate Quinn points out, with the publication of Nuestra Senora, Serrano enjoys the unique distinction of becoming the first female Chilean author to write a detective novel and the first Chilean to create a female detective ("Cases" 303). (5) In general, Serrano's novels explore the social world of women. With Nuestra Senora, the author does not abandon themes of friendship, identity, the repression of women and the search for utopia that she develops in her other novels, but rather repackages them within the context of a detective story.

Much of the criticism published on Serrano's novel focuses on the modifications it makes to the detective genre and attempts primarily to classify the text into the appropriate category of detective fiction. P. Eric Henager argues that Nuestra Sehora de la Soledadseems at first to adhere more to the tradiuonal analytical detective style because most ofthe investigation ofthe case "departs little from the conventions of the genre" (136) and exhausts itself in one reading upon the revelation of the enigma (139). Henager continues on to state that a closer analysis ofthe novel, however, would reveal that it is a "novela negra disguised as a detective novel" because its ending, in which the investigator decides to provide a falsified version ofthe truth to her client, supports rereading (139). For Henager, then, what fundm-nentally constitutes a novela negra is that ir begs for rereading. In similar terms, Sara Rosell sustains that Nuestra Sehora is a "novela antidetectivesca" because it subverts the traditional resolution ofthe enigma. (6) In this essay I would like to offer my reading of Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, which builds on Henager's and Rosell's understanding ofthe novel, but also suggests a third possibility. I will show how Serrano's novel aligns itself with the neo-policiaI latinoamericano tradition, made popular during the 1980s and '90s, in three essential temas that Ana Maria Amar Sanchez states are reconfigured in each tradition of detective fiction: crime, truth and justice. Moreover, Serrano's novel appropriates and rearticulates what I considera constitutive element ofthe neo-policial--the elaboration of physical space and its poetic configuration within the discourse. If we look closely at the discursive elements of a handful of neo-policial novels we observe that these writers both privilege the development of spatial description over other discursive elements and use it poetically to point to abstract leveis of meaning. …

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