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Title: The evolution of narrative styles in the work of James Ellroy
Author: Powell, Steven
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2013
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As the self-proclaimed ‘Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction’, James Ellroy, renowned author and literary celebrity, has expanded his style and ability to create narratives through his persona. The public image of Ellroy has been shaped by the author through his mastery of different mediums, such as the interview, book reading and auto-biography. Yet his persona is neither easily definable nor constant. A contrarian at times, Ellroy has benefited from his love of nostalgia paired with his unconventional approach and his willingness to shock his audience. These narrative techniques have informed his writing, and his style has evolved alongside, and sometimes interchangeably with, his public persona This thesis is an examination of the narrative styles James Ellroy has experimented with and developed over the course of his writing career. I argue that Ellroy embraced new and often radical writing styles as he transitioned from one phase of his career to the next. In his debut novel, Ellroy accepted many of the conventions of the crime fiction genre, but by the time he had moved to the LA Quartet novels, Ellroy claimed the genre was all but dead, and that his work had been the apex and finale of crime fiction. In each chapter I make references to Ellroy’s literary persona as a form of narrative in his work. As his stature grew as a crime writer, the Demon Dog persona became increasingly apparent. This thesis is divided into five chapters. The first chapter, ‘Experimentation and Method in the Avon Novels’ examines Ellroy’s early novels with the publisher Avon. Ellroy drew on aspects of his own life to develop the plots and characters: in Brown’s Requiem, protagonist and antagonist are modelled on Ellroy; in Clandestine, Ellroy’s family, and specifically his mother’s murder, provides the plot for the novel; and Martin Plunkett’s backstory in Killer on the Road embeds scenes from Ellroy’s childhood that he did not reveal until late in life. The second chapter, ‘Ellroy’s Displaced Romantic: The Lloyd Hopkins Novels’, examines Ellroy’s depiction of Hopkins as a man in conflict with the age, and by the final chapter of the novel he has moved from his place of centrality, to a minor character. Ellroy was forced to rein in some of his stylistic changes with the apocalyptic manuscript ‘L.A. Death Trip’, deferring the experimentation until he was a more skilled writer. The third chapter, ‘James Ellroy, Jean Ellroy and Elizabeth Short: The Demon Dog and Transmogrification’, examines Ellroy’s lifelong obsession with the Black Dahlia murder case. From a young age, Ellroy linked his mother with the murder victim Elizabeth Short and himself, and this trinity forms the basis of other changing trinities, intense relationships between three people, in the novel. With the success of The Black Dahlia, Ellroy was briefly the definitive voice on the case, until the popularity of true crime authors threatened his control over the narrative. The fourth chapter, ‘The New Noir Style of the Los Angeles Quartet’, considers how Ellroy drew on film noir, consciously making his writing visual, and in the case of L.A. Confidential, almost mirroring the style of a screenplay. Ellroy’s desire to experiment with the noir depictions of 1940s and 1950s LA, led him to develop a noir prose style he dubbed ‘Ellrovian’. The fifth and final chapter, ‘The Private Nightmare of Public Policy’: The Narrative of Secret Histories in the Underworld USA Trilogy’, explores how Ellroy expanded his vision beyond crime fiction to a revisionist historical fiction. With each of Ellroy’s experiments, he offers a countermovement; the sparse prose style of The Cold Six Thousand provoked a critical backlash, causing him to radically revise his writing plans for the last novel of the Underworld trilogy and Ellroy’s final novel to date, Blood’s a Rover.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available