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Friday, September 30, 2005

The Case Of The Missing Inspiration

It was early one autumn in the 21st century that my friend Mr Sherlock Holmes’ powers were at their lowest ebb. His failure in the case of the Vanished Weapons of Mass Destruction had rankled, and robbed his great mind of their usual penetrative powers. The papers relating to this case are stowed safely in my safe deposit box at the largest private banking concern in the City, and will be revealed to the world at an appropriate time. On that bleak evening, however, I beheld the once-great detective sprawled on his ottoman beside the fire, staring despondently at a vial in his hand, and I feared that he would once again fall prey to the accursed white powder that he claimed brought to his senses the stimulation he so desperately needed.

My ruminations were interrupted by a series of loud, hurried knocks. I sprang up to open the door, and came face to face with a most miserable creature indeed. Lanky, with unkempt hair, furrowed brow and grimy fingers, he clutched my arm and gasped, “Is that Mr Holmes? I need help – now. Please.”

Holmes sat upright, crossing his legs. “Do sit down,” he said, indicating the armchair and studying this miserable specimen with a keen gaze. “Thank you, Mr Holmes,” said our strange visitor. “I –”

Holmes held up his hand. “You are an author who has just had a meeting with your literary agent,” he said. “You have to deliver a manuscript, but don’t know how to meet the deadline. Despite your best efforts, inspiration fails. Now tell me, my dear sir: how can I be of help?”

The writer fell back on the chair with a gasp. “My dear Holmes, how -” I asked, smiling into my moustache.

“Simplicity itself,” said Holmes, laying down the vial and picking up his pipe. “His fingers have paper cuts on them; moreover, they are ink-stained. Observe his brow, Watson: wrinkles arise there because of the effort of composition. And on his cuffs, little scribbles relating to royalties and deadlines. What could be easier to deduce?”

“Holmes,” said our visitor. “You’re right. Absolutely right. My name is Barnes. Julian Barnes. And my new book…” He buried his face in his hands.

“Come, come,” said my friend. “Mr Barnes, I ask again: how can I help?”

“Inspiration, Mr Holmes,” said the other. “Inspiration. It's been with me for years. Even followed me to France and back, on occasion. But one morning last month, it mysteriously disappeared. Not a trace of it have I found since. Now Pat says I have to deliver a new manuscript soon, and….and….” His voice trailed away.

Holmes steepled his fingers and settled back. I could sense the cogs and gears in his brain beginning to mesh again. “What do you make of it, Watson?” he asked.

“As you know, Holmes, I have some small success in writing myself,” I replied modestly. “My chronicles of our exploits have won a wide audience. And I can safely say that Mr Barnes here needs a lot more discipline, dedication and diligence: the three Ds that any aspiring – ”

“Pooh, Watson,” said Holmes dismissively. “Your chronicles, as you call them, suffer from too much melodrama. Besides, Barnes here is bedeviled by the fact of having to make up things for a living – unlike you, who witnesses at first hand the things you write about.”

I stepped back, hurt. What would Holmes know about the joys and sorrows of composition? I shot a sympathetic glance at Barnes, who looked to be in a worse state than before. His complexion was even paler, and I wondered whether this was the countenance he would show to the world on his book jacket.

“Holmes,” I said, “the creator of a work is –”

Holmes interrupted me again. “The Creator, Watson!” he said, eyes shining. “By Jove, I believe you’ve got it! Once again, my dear fellow, you come to my aid, however unwittingly.”

Barnes and I exchanged glances. I must confess that I was at a loss to comprehend the leap that Holmes' deductive faculty had made. “Barnes,” announced Holmes. “For inspiration, you could do no better than look to our Creator.”

The writer raised his eyes heavenward, as my jaw dropped. Could this really be my logical, rational friend speaking? "You know my methods, Watson," said Holmes. "Apply them!"

I fell on my knees and joined my palms in prayer. "Hear this author's plea, O Lord," I began, when I heard Holmes' derisive snort. “Our Creator, Watson!" he barked. "Our Creator and his efforts to assist that half-Parsi lawyer.”

Barnes sprang up, twitching his fingers excitedly. “Why yes,” he exclaimed. “Doyle and Edalji….Arthur and George….of course! It’s perfect!”

Holmes settled back, a satisfied smile playing upon his lips. “Brilliant, Holmes!” I said, rising to my feet. “A mere trifle, Watson,” replied the detective. We noticed that Barnes was lost to the world; he was walking about as in a trance, scribbling on a notepad that he had pulled out of his jacket. “Take that, Martin. Top this, Salman. Too bad, Kazuo,” we heard him mutter to himself. Holmes grinned. “Authors and their peccadilloes, Watson,” he said to me. “Let us leave the poor fellow to his Muse and go forth to violin-land, where all is sweetness and harmony, and there are no desperate scribblers to vex us with their conundrums."

Upon which Holmes and I walked out at dusk through the lamplit London fog while in our rooms in Baker Street, Julian Barnes communed with his inspiration at long last.

The Shah Rukh Khan Of Indian Writing

From an article in The Hindu:

"[Vikram] Seth's refusal to be slotted in his writing seems to have found an echo among his readers too. While he might not want to be fitted into a definition with his work, his booksellers are keen on putting a tag to him: successful. As the spokesman of Om Bookstores in Delhi puts it: 'He is the Shah Rukh Khan of Indian writing; his books always have a good initial opening.' "

Update: An incisive -- and flattering -- comment from The Economist on Shah Rukh's Two Lives: “If, as Ernest Hemingway wrote, prose is architecture, then this memoir-cum-biography houses its characters in a way that allows readers to look in without feeling that they are gawping.”

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Vikram Chandra Returns

Some time ago, this blog had raised the question: whatever happened to Vikram Chandra's long-awaited book featuring Inspector Sartaj Singh? Well, thanks to today's Mumbai Mirror, we now know the answer:

"Chandra's third book, and perhaps the most arduous, written over a period of six years, was actually sent out to fifteen publishers simultaneously. In the furious bidding that followed between three top publishers, HarperCollins locked the deal at USD one million for just the US and Canadian rights....Despite the six years in writing the book exudes a sense of immediacy, dealing as it does with an underworld don, a plot to assassinate a prominent political leader and a cop's battle with the system. Beyond that, the writer is loath to disclose plot details."

One would think too many details had already been disclosed. In any case, the book won't hit the shelves before Fall 2006, so there's still a long wait ahead.

(Mumbai Mirror links expire in 24 hours. So click now, or forever hold your peace.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Lashing Out At Lahiri

In his Nation review of Zadie Smith's On Beauty (which he finds lacking in restraint and form), William Deresiewicz takes a sudden and gratuitous detour to lash out at Jhumpa Lahiri's output:

“[Interpreter of Maladies’] nine stories exhibit a high degree of competence, but it's the kind of competence that makes you want to call for the abolition of writing programs (not to mention the Pulitzer Prize for fiction). The pieces in Interpreter of Maladies are crafted--no, machine-tooled--to within a millimeter of their tiny, calculating lives; their writing-handbook devices--the inciting event, the governing symbol, the wry turn, the final epiphany--arrive one after another, exactly on time, with the subtlety of a pit bull and the spontaneity of a digital clock. Lahiri has since published The Namesake, a dull, studied, pallid novel that says remarkably little about the immigrant experience while elaborately fetishizing the consumption patterns of the liberal upper-middle class.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

There's A Word For It

Fucha: What many bloggers do.

Zhengrong: What many models do.

Alang: What one would like to reduce.

Such, such are the joys of lexicography. In other words, Jacot De Boinod discovers the meaning of tingo.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Clicking With Writers

She shot Anne Sexton the day before the poet was admitted to a mental hospital. Visited Truman Capote before 4 p.m. because he'd be sober then. And was admonished by Philip Roth when she walked him down one too many Connecticut roads looking for the right backdrop: "Nancy, the road didn't write the book."

Now, there's an exhibition in LA featuring the work of Nancy Crampton, who's been taking photographs of writers since 1972: from Jhumpa Lahiri to David Foster Wallace to W.H. Auden.