Prufrock's Page

Saturday, January 28, 2006

So Much For Chetan Bhagat

In the New Statesman, Amit Chaudhuri offers an indictment of Indian writing in English today, linking it to the narrative of India itself finding its place in the world:

"...the Indian writer in English must be co-opted into this narrative of success and record growth; anything else, during this watershed, is looked upon with anxiety. The writer mustn't cause anxiety; in our family romance, he's the son-in-law - someone we can be proud of, can depend on, who is, above all, a safe investment. He is solvent; preferably settled abroad. He's capable of addressing questions consonant with our emerging prestige. He is not a failure, a daydreamer, a misfit. The anglophone intellectual tradition in India, unlike other intellectual lineages in modernity, has developed no space for daydreaming, irresponsibility, failure, or for the outsider; it has little understanding of the role these play in shaping the imaginative life. It is baffled, if not offended, by an indifference to lofty themes and causes; in the end, it's baffled by an indifference to power.

"The triumphal narrative of Indian writing in English bores me; personally speaking, as a reader and writer, I feel almost no connection with it. I find no echo in its values and excitements of the sense of value and excitement that once brought me to writing...

"It isn't enough, today, to celebrate Indian writing's "success", after having identified what its marks of success are (as if a whole tradition must only be thought of as an arriviste would be); one needs to engage with its long, subterranean history (as hard-earned as political freedom itself) of curiosity and openness."

No More Melancholy Memories?

“I have stopped writing. Last year was the first in my life in which I haven’t written even a line...With my experience, I could write a new novel without any problems, but people would realise my heart wasn’t in it."

- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in an interview with the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia.

From Coetzee To Haggard

Aamer Hussein has decidedly mixed views on Kunal Basu's new novel, Racists:

"Basu's tale is an entertaining hybrid, part intellectual thriller, part boys' own adventure, part romance at the heart of darkness. If the reader is reminded at times of Coetzee's Foe, an equally adamant presence is that of Rider Haggard."

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Siddhartha Deb on Rick Moody's new novel, The Diviners:

"Moody isn't the worst writer of his generation, as fellow novelist Dale Peck said of him in a scathing review a few years ago. He is entirely representative of his generation, especially in writing a book that has numerous trivial observations on what goes into the creation of TV while almost entirely ignoring the things that make a good novel."

Three Lives

In a Boston Globe review of Vikram Seth's Two Lives, Laila Lalami makes a telling point which, if heeded, would have made for a slimmer book:

''Two Lives would have more properly been called ''Three Lives," for the book tells the story not just of Shanti and Henny but also of Seth -- his time at Tonbridge, Oxford, and Stanford, his struggle to learn German (like his uncle's, 40 years earlier), his travels through Europe as a student, his work in China, his decision to write fiction, the research he undertook, his views on the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and the question of the old Palestine, and his feelings about his uncle's decision to leave most of the family out of his will. In this sense, the book is both biography and memoir, and in trying to do both it doesn't quite succeed at either. This might have made for a better book had Seth devoted his considerable talent to a novel based on Shanti and Henny's improbable yet lasting relationship, and their lives in Germany and Britain before and after World War II. As it stands, however, Two Lives delivers an incomplete portrait of a fascinating couple."

Brighter Lights, Bigger City?

The notorious James Frey calls Jay McInerney's new novel, The Good Life, his best since Bright Lights Big City. The New York Observer's review says it's "less engaging, less rich, less energetic than his last big comeback novel, Brightness Falls". It's yet another tale of America -- specifically, New York -- after 9/11. Frankly, at the rate in which such books are being churned out, it won't be long before it'll be a relief to pick up a novel that doesn't use 9/11 as an overarching metaphor, a generation-defining incident, a critical moment, or whatever. (Remember Chou-en-lai's answer to a question on the impact of the French revolution? "It's too early to say.")

"It's A Great Day For Orhan, But...

...we have to go on pushing."

- Salman Rushdie, in an interview with DW-World. In reply to another question, he says:

"I think the bedrock for me has always been that I am an Indian novelist. I am an Indian novelist who like many Indian novelists lives in many different places. But if you look at the history of literature, western writers always gave themselves the right to live any damn place they chose. If Earnest Hemingway or Gertrude Stein wanted to live in Paris they didn't become French."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Take Two Novels And Call Me In The Morning

Sebastian Junger, author of the non-fiction works A Perfect Storm and the forthcoming A Death In Belmont weighs in on the James Frey imbroglio:

“There are very firm rules in journalism, and so I do reject the entire notion of ‘new’ journalism as a pretext for fabrication, saying that you fictionalized a piece of journalism. ‘A little bit’ is like saying that you’re ‘a little bit pregnant.’ As soon as you do that, it’s not journalism any more; there is no gray area in between....Although I have not written a memoir, my instinct would be to consider it simply a form of journalism about oneself. By that standard, it surprised me to hear some people in the publishing industry assert that memoirists achieve a ‘higher truth’ by resorting to fiction. We would never indulge that sort of thing in a court witness or, for that matter, in our president, so why should we in publishing? Just call it ‘fiction’ and save yourself the headache.”

And Then Came The Times Of India

In a review of The Gang That Wouldn't Write Straight, an overview of the New Journalism movement by Marc Weingarten, Robert Boynton writes:

So what really "killed" New Journalism? I would say it was the twin evils of all magazine journalism: service and sensationalism. As Weingarten notes, by the early 1970s, magazines like New York were beginning the long slide down toward "Top 10" service features and puffy lifestyle stories. The 1977 appearance of "Star Wars" on the cover of Rolling Stone suggested that, from then on, most magazines would function as little more than "press organs for movie stars." The journalistic form with which writers like Wolfe chronicled postwar consumerism eventually succumbed to it.

Another Deadline Whizzes By

In an article on the importance given to prodigies in today's times, Alexandra Schwartz writes:

"Virginia Woolf, author of some of the best-known books of the 20th century, was, among other things, astonishingly prolific. But by today's terms of success, she was quite a late starter. Woolf published her first book at the age of 33. Mrs. Dalloway and To The Lighthouse, her two masterpieces, followed 10 and 12 years later respectively, when Woolf was already in her mid-40s. With the current pressure to turn out masterpieces before the age of 25, such a delay seems increasingly unlikely for a modern author."

Extremely depressing to read such things early in the morning.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Other Ondaatje

"Here is someone who had it all, then lost it, then built up a billion-dollar business empire. Who in his spare time became an Olympic sportsman, a photographer and an international art collector before giving it all up to pursue a life of writing, exploration and philanthropy."

That's from a fascinating profile of the 72-year-old Christopher Ondaatje, Michael's brother, who's planning to give his sibling some competition:

"Two years ago he went to Africa in pursuit of his literary hero Ernest Hemingway, producing the acclaimed Hemingway in Africa. With the publication of his latest work, Woolf in Ceylon, about Virginia Woolf's husband Leonard and his time as a colonial administrator in Sri Lanka, Ondaatje seals a reputation as someone driven to follow in the (literal) footsteps of his literary greats."

Who's Unafraid Of Virginia Woolf?

In reviewing Julia Brigg's new biography of Virginia Woolf, Charles Matthews says:

"As Briggs puts it, Woolf strove for fiction that would `hold together the multiplicity, inconsistency and variety that characterize our experience of living' and that would provide `pictures rather than explanations, questions rather than answers, the elusiveness of the short story rather than the solidity of the novel.' "

Tall order, that.

Shamsie's Quibble

In an appreciative review of Suketu Mehta's Maximum City in the Times Literary Supplement, novelist Kamila Shamsie points out that it's extremely male-oriented:

"Maximum City is not really interested in Bombay as experienced by women. Yes, there are the bar-line girls -- though they are a component of men's pleasure and occasional references to women here and there. When Mehta leaves the world of gangs, bars and Bollywood to write about the ordinary-yet-extraordinary people who try to live out their dreams in Bombay, he writes almost exclusively of men. Perhaps he is trying to say that this is another component of the city -- its male-centredness. And yet one of the more interesting features of the metropolises of the subcontinent is the opportunities they give women to inhabit roles that are less possible in rural areas. So it is a shame that in this long and impressive book we should see so little of the women of Bombay."