Prufrock's Page

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Many Lives Of Benjamin Black

It's been reported that John Banville is embarking on a series of literary thrillers featuring a Dublin pathologist named Quirke. The first novel, simply called Quirke, deals with a murderous plot involving the Catholic establishment in Dublin and Boston, and will be published by fall 2006.

The thrillers, however, are to be published under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black. Since Banville's new agent and editor themselves are advertising this, one wonders why the need for subterfuge.Perhaps marketing research has thrown up the finding that those who browse in the thriller section of bookstores aren't aware of Banville's other accomplishments?

A quick Google search reveals that Benjamin Black is also a soul/pop singer, a "gothic dentist" (whatever that means), a freshman and crew member at Dartmouth and the co-founder and executive vice-president of an architectural simulation company named Visarc. Good heavens, are all of these Banville's alter egos? Who knew?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Memories Of His Melancholy Novella

Marquez's latest, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, is dense, lyrical -- and disappointing, because it's undeniably slight. The subject matter itself -- a celebration of a 90-year-old's lust for a teenager -- is likely to put off most. As it does Adam Kirsch, who writes in the New York Sun:

"In the simplified world of Mr. Garcia Marquez's fiction, there is nothing more bewitching than a grand, passionate gesture, regardless of how its motives or effects would appear in a recognizably human setting...[The central character's] masculine potency - which is, of course, an image of his 77-year-old creator's literary potency - scores one last success on the edge of the grave. That Mr. Garcia Marquez expects the reader to salute an ancient man's victory over a child, rather than see it as pathetic or monstrous, is the latest measure of his fiction's heroic contempt for reality."

Evolved Pirates

On my way to work last morning, I was confronted by one of those pleasant young men whose job it is to interest the paying public in pirated editions of the latest books. But the volume he thrust into the car wasn't the new instalment in the adventures of Harry Potter, or the prison-cell fiction of Jeffrey Archer, as you might expect. It was, instead, Steven Levitt's Freakonomics. Intrigued, I looked at the other books he carried in the crook of his arm. The first two on the pile were Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat and Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. Well, well, I thought, what next? The Argumentative Indian? But no. The next volume he thrust towards me was Paolo Coelho's The Alchemist. Oh dear. So it wasn't some rogue economist moonlighting on the side after all...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

And Then He Blew The Smoke From The Barrel Of His Pistol And Rode Into The Sunset

In an article on the worth of the Booker and other literary prizes, Simon Williamson quotes 1971 Booker winner V.S. Naipaul:

"The Booker is murder. Absolutely nothing would be lost if it withered away and died."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Acknowledged Legislators

Playwright Dario Fo, another one of those controversial Literature Nobel awardees, has disclosed to the BBC that he wants to run for mayor of Milan, his home city.

Which reminds one of another writer and would-be office-holder: Norman Mailer, who was independent mayoral candidate for the city of New York in 1969 (losing to Republican John Lindsay). At that time, V.S. Naipaul wrote a bemused first-person account of Mailer's campaign ("New York With Norman Mailer"), reproduced in his The Writer and the World.

Among other writers who've sought public office, Czech playwright Vaclav Havel is probably the best-known: he was president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992, and of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

In India, it works the other way around: first, they get elected, then they turn to poetry and prose. Consider the poems of A.B. Vajpayee, or P.V. Narasimha Rao's The Insider, for instance.

Well, at least that's one way to get a publisher interested in your work.

Canongate's Myths

Canongate, the independent Scottish publisher that made its presence felt a few years ago by bringing out books by Michael Faber and Yann Martel, among others, and is now known for its quirky, diverse list, has launched what sounds like a wonderful new series.

Entitled The Myths, in collaboration with 24 other publishing houses, it's billed as “the most ambitious simultaneous worldwide publication undertaken”.

In each book, a writer retells a myth. The first three — Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth, Jeanette Winterson’s Weight and Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad — are to be published next month. (Future authors include Donna Tartt, Chinua Achebe, Victor Pelevin and David Grossman.)

You can read an interview with Jamie Byng, the man responsible for the upturn in Canongate's fortunes, here.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Another Utopia Unmasked

Hari Kunzru cancels his trip to the Maldives, and explains why:

"The reason the Maldives appears such an unspoilt paradise, is because tourists are kept segregated from ordinary Maldivians. Apart from the capital island, Malé, outsiders are only permitted onto inhabited islands for brief visits. Were they to see a little more they'd realise they were in a place in the grip of deep crisis. The Maldives doesn't produce much food. Many basic supplies, including a lot of the fresh fruit that ends up in tourists' breakfast buffet, have to be imported. Most fresh food bypasses local people and goes straight to the resorts. The United Nations recently found more than 30 per cent of children under five were suffering from malnutrition. The acute deprivation, along with the lack of democracy, is pushing some traditional muslim communities into the arms of fundamentalists."

A Test For West And East

"An unprincipled Europe, which turns its back on great artists and fighters for freedom, will continue to alienate its citizens, whose disenchantment has already been widely demonstrated by the votes against the proposed new constitution. So the West is being tested as well as the East. On both sides of the Bosphorus, the Pamuk case matters."

- Salman Rushdie on the Orhan Pamuk affair