Distinctive ideas are an intriguing and central aspect of every novel. On the surface, ‘The Life and Crimes of Harry lavender’, by Marele Day investigates the social criticisms of today’s modern society. The subversion of female characters is utilized to challenge our perception of gender stereotypes. Furthermore, Day highlights the significance of the setting through the personification of Sydney, and the impact of technology in the criminal world. Ultimately, ‘The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender” highlights these distinctive ideas to examine the subversions necessary in order to address traditional conventions in modern society.
Day’s prominent social criticism is driven by the depiction of her inverted detective, Claudia Valentine who is used to challenge traditional gender roles both in fiction and reality. She is cleverly introduced in a manner which is reminiscent of the traditional hard-boiled detective “the black suit was hanging in the wardrobe neatly pressed. The black shoes were…” where the protagonist is portrayed as the conventional male. However the audience is surprised when Valentine is revealed to be a woman, and the ‘blond’ a male one night stand. This shift reflects the changing gender expectations from the traditional setting of the Hard Boiled 20s – 40s, to the modern day 80s further questioning our perceptions on gender stereotypes. Day subverts the cheap sex motif of the Hard Boiled crime into in a way that makes Valentine both strong and independent, inevitably creating a new voice for the female in crime fiction. This can be seen through Valentines encounter with Dr.Angell, where she places herself as the dominant seducer, “It was all I could do to stop myself taking off my clothes and diving in,” rather than being conventionally ‘seduced’. This empowered woman is further demonstrated in her ability to, “Use [her] legs as a weapon… “, and that, “[She doesn’t] carry a gun…there’s more than one way to skin a cat…”.While the gun is a traditional phallic symbol of the Hard Boiled male protagonist, Day’s deliberate choice not to use the gun is symbolic of Valentines strength who is discernable from her traditional male counterparts. Hence, the pun in “legs as a weapon,” and the idiom of ‘more than one way…’ emphasizes that as a female, Valentine is far more resourceful than her male colleagues commenting on societies criticisms and that females can too play the male role throughout life .In this way, Day has cleverly subverted the traditional detective to comment on the one-dimensional females within literature
Similarly, Day further explores the social criticism through the use of sophisticated femme fatal, Sally Villos. Day particularly captures the duality of Sally through her innocent facade contrasted with the reality of her cruel intentions highlighting the power of women and commenting on societies approach to gender roles. The use of these conflicting personalities differentiates Sally from the generic male/female conflict characters of conventional hard-boiled crime fiction. Initially, Sally adopts the conventional femme fatale characterization through her alcoholism, “Here’s to Mark, and she downed yet another Tequila Sunrise,” highlighting her naive and innocent facade. Day further explores this through the juxtaposition of sexuality and naivety, “with the look of a beautiful but naughty child… playing with matches.” This infantilizing imagery is employed to emphasize the importance of her façade, highlighting her unique and deceptive nature similar to those of her father; Harry Lavender. Furthermore, Sally’s façade is developed along the with the story through the oxymoronic adjectives, “a beautiful, made up face, a sophisticated child, cool and crying and laughing all in one breath, a liar, a tease…” as well as using make up as an extended metaphor for her façade, Valentine acknowledges that “The city was like Sally….” and that Sally was, “A child of the city.” Her metaphorical expressions foreshadow that Sally would become her father, a powerful figure in the city with her money, connections and her deadly beauty. Thus, Sally’s accord subverts gender roles in presenting a deceptive character that juxtaposes and challenges society’s perceptions of women.
Additionally, Day focuses on the significant ideas of the thematic and atmospheric essence of a crime novel that lies within its setting, a city that is personified, familiar, and alive. She also portrays technology as a double-edged blade where it can be used for good but also for evil. The detective needs to feel the ‘pulse’ of the city, and Day captures this through the personification of Sydney, “The city has a life of its own … you need to know… what will become weeds…. [and] what will be nurtured and thrive…” Furthermore, Day draws the audience into her creation of Sydney by using metonyms such as, “There is more hidden from view… the labyrinthine underbelly, the city of the night,” to construct the atmosphere of a seedy, dangerous world where crime is hidden from the ‘normal’ facets of life. Her extended metaphors, “Expose the viscera… the road-like veins, the transport of deadly cargo, the bloodstream of the city’s body,” allows Day to interact with the audience by presenting the city as having a will and character, of having appetites, wants and desires, which allows Claudia Valentine to interact with the city on a human level. In addition, Day introduces a modern technological aspect to her crime diction that subverts traditional crime fictions set in the early 20th century. Her use of the idiom, “I don’t believe a paranoid writer would have all his eggs in one basket. There must be back-up somewhere, a duplicate.” reflect the insecurities of a modern society so reliant on technology. Her novel captures the potential of technology in the modern crime world for good, as well as for evil, through the ironic ending, “[Harry Lavender] who perpetrated his life and crimes through technology… now depended on technology for his life.” In this way, Day captures the anxieties and fears of a modern society and its suspicions towards the rapid advancement of technological innovations as a distinctive idea.
Days, “The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender,” powerfully engages with reader with its distinctive ideas of challenging social criticisms of today’s society. It achieves this through the subversion of gender roles, the creation of a narrative based on modern, contemporary settings, and the inversion of traditional tropes such as the femme fatale.