Prufrock's Page

Friday, September 09, 2005

Lighten Up, Smith, You're On The Shortlist

Zadie Smith waxes nostalgic about her homeland in an interview with New York magazine (quotes reproduced from the News Telegraph):

"It's the way people look at each other on the train; just general stupidity, madness, vulgarity, stupid TV shows, aspirational arseholes, money everywhere...When I talk about England now I just think of the England that I loved and it's gone. It's just a disgusting place. It's terrifying. Maybe I'm just getting old....I want to get on the Tube. I want to have a life. I'm not interested in being stared at...I think if you're a woman, your looks are an essential part of you because the world makes them so. When my book came out, how I looked was a topic of conversation...It's incredibly insulting and absurd, but they do it to wind you up, so I have to try not to be wound up by it."

She has kind words for the United States, too: "America's a big country. In America only a few weirdos read. I mean, it seems like a lot of weirdos, but that's because you're a very big country."

Her inspiring advice to aspiring novelists everywhere: "Writing a novel is quite stupid work. In a novel you're never wrong. Novelists aren't intellectuals, they're just intuitive if they're lucky."

Asked by the magazine if she might make the Booker shortlist, she replied: "No, there's no chance. Have you seen the ****ing list?"

Not Tonight, Dear, I Have A Casserole

In the New Statesman, William Skidelsky praises the New Yorker's annual food issue for getting its priorities right:

"What is it about the New Yorker's food writing that appeals to me? I like, above all, its seriousness and straightforwardness. In Britain, despite our modish fascination with all things food-related, a faint whiff of embarrassment attaches to public discussions of the subject. There is still a sense that an interest in food needs to be apologised for, which explains our tendency to broach the subject through the prism of sex, celebrity or class. In the New Yorker food issues, there are no allusions to sex: it is rightly seen as irrelevant."

(It's not available online as yet, but ought to be soon.)

And Galloping Into The Last Stretch Are...

...Barnes, Ishiguro, Banville, Barry and the Smiths.

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Take Notes, Lo

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary edition of Nabokov's Lolita, David Thomson informs us that it's ..."a novel about education."

Somewhat staggeringly, he goes on: "Humbert Humbert is a model of lifelong learning and intellectual ferment, a connoisseur and scholar who has come to the dark forests of New England to spread cultivation....So it is, along with the nymphet obsession, that the lofty Hum beholds Lo and wonders about darkness, the light and determining a grade; she’s a child he will not leave behind. And while he goes into raptures over her dorsal down, he cannot stifle plans for her chewing-gum mind."

(Update: The Boston Globe has an intelligent overview: "...
the most brilliant American novel of the 20th century, now a round and ripe 50 years old, tells us that the artist cannot live in the world as he lives in the world of words--and that this is a lesson worthy of expressing in the world of words.")

Return Of The Girl Sleuth

She's Japanese, grew up in Barcelona and now lives and works in San Francisco, one of "eight wildly talented artists from all over the world working on independent and group animation projects." Her passion? Nancy Drew.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Desai On Ishiguro

At the end of Anita Desai's long, descriptive review of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go in the NYRB, she takes issue with his decision to tackle the subject of cloning by placing fictional characters and events in a hypothetical future scenario:

"The vision Ishiguro creates of the factory farming of clones does indeed belong to the world of horror movies—and the nightmares of conservatives in government and church—but makes no mention of a far greater and more real horror, which is the trafficking in organs of donors in the desperately poor countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, compelled by their poverty to provide organs for which the first world with its obscene wealth can pay....Would a book that presented not a hypothetical concept but a reality be too much to tackle, for both writer and reader? Would such a truth be too overwhelming for such partners in fantasy to confront? Is it sufficient for fiction to create a pale, opaque screen to place between the reader and reality?"

Hmm. For a novelist to criticise another writer's novel in terms of characterisation, prose style and craft is commonplace; but to criticise the manner in which a novelist chooses to depict and dramatise his subject matter is unusual, to say the least.

Outta My Way, Jack

On the roads, in restaurants, in movie theatres, on NDTV's The Big Fight or while driving, the average inhabitant of this country is spitting, shouting, talking loudly on the cellphone, jumping queues, interrupting conversations, switching lanes, burping or simply scratching his crotch (if he's a he) and staring rudely at all and sundry.

Such people need to get hold of Lynne Truss' forthcoming book, entitled Talk To The Hand, a cry for civility and manners in an ungentlemanly world. If practical, zero-tolerance measures are suggested, one is going to adopt them at once. If you don't mind, Sir.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Kakutani Passes Judgement

Yes, one knows there's been too much about Rushdie and Shalimar The Clown in this blog of late. But how can one not point to the magisterial Michiko Kakutani's review in The New York Times? The lady is no fan of Rushdie's new book; her praise is faint, and criticisms many:

"...this time, the author's allegory-making machinery clanks and wheezes....Worse, Shalimar the Clown is hobbled by Mr. Rushdie's determination to graft huge political and cultural issues onto a flimsy soap opera plot - a narrative strategy that not only overwhelms his characters' stories but also trivializes the larger issues the author is trying to address."

Oh, dear. But: "What is most engaging about this novel - and represents a return to form, after two particularly weak and poorly observed novels - is Mr. Rushdie's creation of several compelling characters."

However: "While Mr. Rushdie manages the delicate balancing act of making these people both psychologically credible human beings and allegorical figures in a modern fairy tale, he pads their stories with long, meandering digressions...The main problem with this novel, however, is its title character, Shalimar - Boonyi's cuckolded husband and Max's assassin, who emerges as a thoroughly implausible, cartoonish figure."

And the summing-up: "...ambitious but ham-handed..."

Monday, September 05, 2005

And The Award For Most Original Observation In A Shalimar Review Goes To...

...Matt Thorne, who begins his review for The Independent thus:

"It's impossible to read a line like 'an open city was a naked whore' without picturing Salman Rushdie as Woody Allen's Isaac Davis in Manhattan, pushing his spectacles back up the bridge of his nose, wiping the sweat from his fevered brow and peering down at the typewriter, feeling sheer delight at the bombast of his own prose."

London, Less Interesting Than Mumbai

With energy, wit and endless reserves of empathy, Maximum City leaves you desperate to see Bombay for yourself — but quietly grateful that where you live is a bit less interesting.

- Brian Schofield, in a review of Suketu Mehta's book for The Sunday Times.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Books Of Roth

Only three writers have had their work published in the distinguished Library of America series while still alive: Saul Bellow, Eudora Welty and, most recently, Philip Roth. New York Times literary editor Charles McGrath profiles and interviews the 72-year-old reclusive author on the occasion:

On his earlier books, he says: "If you think of 'Goodbye, Columbus,' 'Letting Go,' 'When She Was Good' and 'Portnoy's Complaint,' it's a bit like four different writers, because I didn't know what kind of writer I was. Maybe there are some people who do know, but I didn't. You have to figure out what your strength is, and I had no idea."

On 'Portnoy's Complaint': "So many people of the people who claimed to be offended by the book said they were offended by the masturbation...But that's silly. Everybody knew about masturbation. What they were really offended by was the depiction of this level of brutality in a Jewish family."

Appropriately, McGrath end his piece by hinting at Roth's next work: "At this time of year, Mr. Roth still reads outside in the early evenings, in a tent of mosquito netting, until the daylight fades, and his main vice is then slipping indoors to check on the Yankees for a couple of hours. 'The canonized go on,' he said, adding that he has just about finished a new piece, which he called 'a very long story, 90 pages or so, and very dark.' Pressed to describe it further he said: 'That's it - 90 dark pages.'