Topical References in Novels

For reasons too boring to go into, I’m currently reading The Big Picture by Douglas Kennedy. I really don’t recommend it. It’s a rather dull story of a rich American whose life is suddenly changed in dramatic ways.

But one thing interested me in it. That’s the way that the topical references in the novel really date it. It was published in 1997 but it already feels really out of date.

The main reason for this is that the protagonist is a NYC lawyer whose hobby is photography. His well-paid job means that he is able to spend whatever he wants on the latest photographic toys. In fact the first few chapters of the book feel, at times, like an up-market photography catalogue. But as this is 1997 this is all “chemical” photography. He spends his money on expensive film. He has a darkroom and a state of the art enlarger. Things that very few hobbyist (or even professional) photographers would be interested in today. Later in the book when he happens to be in the right place at the right time to get some very interesting photographs, time is wasted as the prints are developed.

There’s another great topical reference quite early in the book. Our hero is spying on his wife kissing her secret lover and he thinks to himself:

The last time she kissed me like that, George Bush was still president.

Had to read that a couple of times before it made sense.

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