Prufrock's Page

Saturday, August 20, 2005


Siddhartha Deb thinks it's overhyped and India Today's S. Prasannarajan praises it in his usual adjectival manner. Now, here's another profile-cum-interview with the man on the eve of the launch of Shalimar The Clown:

“What I tried to do in this book was to explain it [the fatwa] by entering into it. To say, if you were there, who would be there and how would they talk to you and what would you feel like and how would it make you think and what would it change in you? What would you want to accept and what would you reject? What would you be pushed towards? And not just to explain it but to understand it. And that’s very interesting to me because research will only get you so far. The thing you have to do is to make that imaginative leap in order to get inside the skin of these people.”

On Midnight's Children:
“I often wonder who that is. Because I don’t write like that any more. I think a lot has changed, not just in the language but also in the perspective. I mean, it’s a young man’s book and it has the strength of that....After the failure of the first book and after one or two false starts or things that never made it to print, I remember thinking, well, you’d better either give up or do something much more conservative and middle-of-the-road and non-risky. Something, you know, littler.

“Or take the biggest risk you can. So that if you’re going to go down, at least go down in flames. And, actually, I remember very clearly thinking, well, OK, then, I’ll do this because I can’t think of anything more artistically dangerous. And, yes, it took me for ever.”

Books You'll Never Read -- And Not Simply Because You're Too Busy Making A Living

Stuart Kelly has just written and published a book on great works that were written and never published. This isn't a Borgesian exploration of fictional works of fiction, but actual manuscripts that were lost or destroyed. The Independent has an extract:

"Since it has a material dimension, literature partakes of the vulnerability of its substance. Every element conspires against it: flame and flood, the desiccating air that corrupts, the loamy earth that decays. Paper is particularly defenceless: it can be shredded and ripped, stained and scrubbed away. Countless living things, from parasites and fungi to insects and rodents, can eat it: it even eats itself, burning in its own acids.

"Some writings are absent, presumed destroyed: Socrates, while in prison, wrote versifications of Aesop's Fables. None of these has survived...The nineteenth-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins burned all of his early poetry, as he dedicated his life to the beauty of God...Is becoming lost the worst that can happen to a book? Not necessarily. The lost book, like the person you never dared ask to the dance, becomes infinitely more alluring simply because it can be perfect only in the imagination."

Here's a list of his favourite "lost" works:

Margites, Homer
Book of Music, Confucious
'First War Novel', Ernest Hemingway
Love's Labour Won, William Shakespeare
Memoirs, Lord Byron
Flaubert's 'Letters'
Aeschylus' lost plays
Rimbaud's Notebook
Dead Souls, Part II, Nikolai Gogol
Double Take, Sylvia Plath

Wanted: Wealthy Philanthropist With A Love For Literature

Granta, the one-time Cambridge University student magazine, is seeking a new owner to carry on a tradition of discovering new writers that began in 1889.

Rea Hederman, who also owns the New York Review of Books, has talked with potential buyers for Granta magazine and Granta Books in recent months as his thoughts turn to retirement.

"We hope he'll find someone sympathetic with what we do," said Gail Lynch, publisher of Granta Books.

"What would be ideal would be someone like Rea, who's benevolent, philanthropic and wealthy and who wants to be associated with a brand like Granta and let it carry on the way it is at the moment," she added.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Waiting For The Great American Novel 2005

Fall is almost upon us, and American publishers are already feeling blue: "Looking across the landscape, there were supposed to be some literary novels that blew everybody away. But for various reasons, they didn't quite perform," says Jonathan Burnham, vice president and publisher of HarperCollins.

John Sterling, president and publisher of Henry Holt, agrees: "I think everyone is still waiting for the book that everyone greets as the big literary book. People thought it would be a strong year for fiction, but it hasn't turned out that way."

At least two anticipated novels of 2005 that received disappointingly mixed responses were Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close. But one hope is E.L. Doctorow's The March, a novel based on Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's bloody campaign through the South during the Civil War. "Doctorow's book is possible," Sterling said of the Random House release. "I'm hearing very good advance word on that one. It would be great to see something break through."

Digressing to speak of Julie Powell's forthcoming cookbook-with-a-twist, Julie And Julia, based on her blog, Little Brown's Geoff Shandler says: "The criteria for signing [it] were very similar to what we would use for any book proposal: There was a strong voice, there was a freshness and a novelty to what she was doing."

And then he proceeds to give us this immortal statement: "A great blogger is like an excellent guitar player, but the book is like playing piano. Bloggers have a head start because they know music, but they still have to make the adjustment."

Lady Chatterley's Author

His star may be on the decline due to the pertinent objections of feminists and the politically correct, but there are still plenty of D.H. Lawrence fans out there. For them, there's the second annual D.H. Lawrence Festival, beginning next week. "We have first editions of Lady Chatterley's Lover, copies of pirate editions, even EM Forster's letter, as a trial witness, defending Lawrence," says Dr Sean Matthews of Nottingham University. And of course there's also going to be an in-depth discussion on Lady Chatterley and her lover. Sure, now you'll go.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Talking Trash

"The city, living at its dense breakneck pace, sloughs off tuna cans and bleach bottles faster than almost anyone can say ‘junk.’ At dusk, lunch garbage lurks outside closed restaurants. Old computers wait gape-faced in the alleys. In the summer, the ripe smell of rot wafts over even the toniest neighborhood. And, at any moment, the city itself is only three days away from a complete garbage backlog…”

Mumbai? No, New York, according to this review of a book written by one individual “on the secret trail of trash.” Officials of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation are advised to click here to order it online.

Bookless In Srinagar

“Time was when a book hit the shelves in the capital New Delhi and would find its way to bookshops in Srinagar the very next day,” says this report by F. Ahmed for the Indo-Asian News Service. But now, “Forget about books on grammar or the finer details of the English language, even bestsellers like Harry Potter and Enid Blyton are unavailable for Kashmir's youngsters.”

The article goes on to quote bibliophiles and schoolteachers on the frustration this has caused:

"Grammar once used to be our hallmark. Educated Kashmiris would speak correct English and looking for good books on literature, fiction, history and other subjects was once an envied pastime of the literate locals. Now you can buy crockery and fancy gifts at places that used to sell books in our youth.”

“The culture of book reading is dead. All you can buy and look for in a bookstore in Kashmir now are just books prescribed in the course for various examinations.”

"I once told a student of English literature to recall Thomas Hardy's works and all he remembered was 'Return of The Native', which I later discovered was prescribed as course in his classes,"

"I remember in my school days we would stage plays based on Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' or Alexander Dumas' 'Three Musketeers'. I do not remember my daughter's school ever inviting me to see a play based on classic or modern English literature though she went to a so-called private public school here."

The article goes on to mention that even libraries in the city are less-frequented nowadays. Given the circumstances that prevail, one supposes this is understandable. But still: what a pity. What a great pity.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Plagiarism

Q: A generous helping of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. Bits from the works of Hilary Mantel. A serving of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. And a piece or two from Antonia White's Frost In May. Throw them all together and what do you get?

A: Judith Kelly's Rock Me Gently.

So How About That Emma Bovary Then, Eh, Lads?

His wife's passion for books -- and for book groups -- made Gerry Duffy of Portsmouth sad, lonely and jealous: ''My wife was in three different book groups at the time, reading all this great stuff. I thought, why should she have all the fun?"

So, says the Boston Globe, he began The Lads, a men's only book group:

"Duffy suspected that a good read would bring men together. He was right. He put the word out in 2003 and 10 men -- an eclectic mix of writers, engineers, and teachers -- came to the first meeting. This was the start of the Lads. Duffy finally had a group of his own, one that has been going strong ever since."

A recent favorite? J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace: ''He's a jerk, but you find yourself pulling for him even though you're supposed to be sensitive and politically correct. We talked about this small book nonstop for two hours, why we loved it and some of our wives hated it."

The Lads also supply refreshments, from venison sausages to chips to beer. Ah, that might explain their love for literature.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Arguing With The Argumentative Indian

Though Amartya Sen's latest collection of essays has received widespread and well-deserved acclaim, Pavan K. Varma has a bone or two to pick in his review for The Independent:

"The violence and bigotry traditionally inflicted by high-caste Hindus on members of their own faith, the low-caste Shudras, has no parallel in any other religion. Nor is Hinduism particularly welcoming to outside influences. We need only recall that until recently Hindus considered all foreigners to be mleccha, inherently unclean, and regarded those who ventured to foreign lands - as Mahatma Gandhi famously did when he left for England to study law in 1888 - as having polluted themselves.

"Any civilisation as ancient, accomplished and diverse as India's will have instances of argument, dissent and debate. This is something to be proud of. But to make such instances the principal contributing factor for the success of the democratic experiment in India, or for the triumph of secularism, is, I believe, to oversimplify things.

"The real reason why the erstwhile 'untouchables' or the poorest of the poor have the freedom to argue today is that the working of democracy - with all its inadequacies - has created a real shift in power to the deprived and dispossessed. This, and not examples of argumentation in elite circles of Indian society in some remote past, is the reason India is now an argumentative nation."

Varma goes on to say of Sen that his vision "for a pluralistic and secular India, which comes out so vividly in this book, deserves wholehearted respect and endorsement," but ends by asserting that "he ends up making the same uncritical evocation of the past that he rightly criticises among the Hindu zealots."

Yes, Sir

Adam Langer, who earlier wrote about authors he had interviewed for The Book Standard, has another engaging piece there entitled In Which The Author, Nearing His Publication Date, Offers Ten Tips To Ruin A Perfectly Good Interview.

One was particularly amused by Rule #2: "reveal your delusions of grandeur". Langer writes: "One of my favorite comic authors was (and, to some extent, still is) David Lodge, whose books Changing Places, Small World and Nice Work are among the funniest academic novels ever written. To show him the appropriate respect, I greeted him by saying, 'How are you doing today, sir?' A long pause ensued. And then Mr. Lodge took time to correct my mistake; I should not call him 'Sir,' he informed me—he hadn’t been knighted yet."

Monday, August 15, 2005

Sunday Bloody Sunday

In the wake of 9/11, US newspapers were privy to many distressing photographs that depicted the victims of the attack on the Twin Towers. With commendable restraint, the New York Times, and other papers, refrained from publishing any that may cause further distress and outrage.

No such qualms affected the esteemed editors of some of our mainstream dailies after the bloody attack by a deranged youth on two women at Mumbai's Gateway of India on Saturday. The Times of India, the Mumbai Mirror and the Indian Express, for example, prominently displayed photographs of the attacker in the act of slashing his victims, followed by the body of one of the girls, as well as a bystander with bloodied clothes helping the other.

The Times of India loftily informed its readers that though "the pictures above are graphic, TOI has refrained from using shots that were far more bloody." Thanks a heap.

Not only is this offensive, there are other disturbing issues, too. For example, every report clearly mentions that those attacked were "Manipuri girls", "girls from Manipur", and so on. Why? One doesn't see the same attention to ethnicity when it comes to people mentioned in other news reports, so why should the people of Manipur be singled out in this manner?

Also: quite clearly, the horrifying act was in progress when the photographs were being taken. So, instead of attempting to call for help or intervene, the photographers were shooting rolls to deliver to their newsrooms. Callousness doesn't even begin to cover it.

Unrelated to the coverage of the incident is the fact that, amongst the crowd of bystanders shown in the photographs, only two tried to help the victims. The rest were watching the spectacle open-mouthed. Doesn't speak very highly of the "spirit of Mumbai" that one has been hearing so much of these days.

(By the way, the phenomenon of "witness behaviour" has been studied in detail by psychiatrists Darley and Latane, particularly in the context of the 1964 murder of a woman in Queens, New York, when 38 witnesses saw the scene and offered no assistance. It's been discussed in Lauren Slater's Opening Skinner's Box, among other books.)

What's particularly sad is that one of the girls, according to the Mumbai Mirror, screamed, "We are not foreigners. We are Manipuri. Please help us."

Happy Independence Day.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Wanted: Blokes In Bunny Wear

Jeannette Winterson's views on a book released to mark the 50th year of the world's most famous men's magazine:

"I have a soft spot for Playboy, and I wish we lived in a world where women could be celebrating a similar kind of sexual freedom and privilege during the next 50 years. While the men were doing Playboy, we were doing Feminism. We’ve come a long way, but we still haven’t got blokes in bunny-wear serving us Martinis by the pool."

A House For Mr Maharaj

“V. S. Naipaul makes a formidable father figure, especially for Indian novelists writing in English,” asserts Donna Bailey Nurse in The Globe And Mail. With that somewhat uninformed sentence, she goes on to give us an over-the-top review of Rabindranath Maharaj’s new novel:

A Perfect Pledge...will establish him as a major Canadian writer and a literary figure of international stature. In addition to Maharaj's power to delight and captivate, there is the novel's bold engagement with the work of Naipaul...A Perfect Pledge shares the comically neutral tone of Naipaul's earlier novels, except that Maharaj's humour is broader, the characters more hilarious in their physical and linguistic excesses. Also, unlike Naipaul, Maharaj's mirth belies an implacable tenderness, an empathy and acceptance of human nature -- a respectfulness that precludes scorn.”