Prufrock's Page

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Title One Approves Of

Speaking of "the exotic Asian novel", Hari Kunzru, in an interview with the New Straits Times, says: "The ideal Indian novel for the American market should be called The Mango Spice Sari Elephant."

He also mentions that his next work is about "a white, middle-class British guy in the early 1970s who becomes part of an extreme leftist radical terrorist group. Later, he will live through the height of the commercial democratic, Blairite moment...It’s ...about commitment, and certainty, and having to face up to consequences that follow you around. It’s a way of talking about politics and, in a way, terrorism, but without having to go anywhere near the current meanings of that and the current, post-9/11 furniture of that....I’ve got a first draft of about 100,000 words which is there, and I’m hoping to get it done towards the end of the year."

Oh no, not another novelist attempt to delicately probe the psyche of characters attracted to terrorist groups.

Banville Waves To The Critics

Much linked to already, but my goodness, definitely worth mentioning: John Banville's frank interview with Australia's The Age. Speaking of his statement at the Booker podium -- "It is good to see a work of art being recognised!" -- he says:

"I said it because I wanted to annoy them, all those literary London critics - they know how to turn the knife. Theirs is such a small world. So I decided to have a go at them. I meant what I said. I do think it good that a work of art has won."

He also talks about Benjamin Black, his alter ego, and "that McEwan thing". One had long been a fan of the man's work without knowing too much about the person himself, and had imagined him to be a sort of recluse, working as literary editor of The Irish Times during the day and writing at night. Well, he's certainly not holding back now, is he?

Friday, May 12, 2006

One Aggrieved Trinidadian

Ten months before the cricket World Cup, Fazeer Mohammed lets fly in the Trinidad & Tobago Express about the islanders' pursuit of recognition from overseas: "[Why is it that] more than 40 years after so many of the former colonies of the British West Indies gained independence, we can only measure ourselves with someone else's yardstick?"

Then, he picks up steam: "Just as when Carnival or any other major annual event comes around, we have been obsessed in the past week with which television network, newspaper or magazine from which metropolis up north is here to cover dutiful, nation-building natives, we must all be on our best behaviour. We must show what is good and great about our wonderful island paradises, we must put everything else aside to give the right interviews to the right people, and we must always remember to smile, wine and shake various body parts when the cameras are focussed on us....Then, after all that strenuous gyrating, grinning and blabbering...we will excitedly flick through the cable channels, surf the net and scan the newspapers, only to curse out loud at how we feel our sweet words were twisted and conveniently edited, and how they didn't have to put so much focus on the crime rate, the drug trade and the challenges of dealing with a restless, disconnected generation."

He continues: "Doltish old talk? If so, how come Derek Walcott and VS Naipaul (how we continue to worship at the feet at this pompous ingrate I will never know) were only awarded the Trinity Cross the year after winning the Nobel Prize? Was their work only worthy of recognition here because people outside said so?"

Any similarities with the situation that prevails in India are purely unintentional. But of course.

Crying Wolfe

"For the novel now, it's all downhill. It's heading downhill very fast because the writers today almost always come out of Master of Fine Arts programs such as the famous ones at Iowa and Stanford. These programs are like standing water. Mosquitoes breed in standing water. It has become unfashionable to put your hands in the social muck of a society and deal with all these vulgar motivations such as social status or greed or anything of this sort.

"The psychological novel, which is mainly the novel of yourself at home, is what is taught. Your own experience is the only valid experience that you can draw from."

That's former New Journalist Tom Wolfe, in a recent interview. Sir Vidia was unavailable for comment. (Link courtesy the always-interesting Literary Saloon.)

You have to give the man credit for consistency. White suit apart, he's been saying the same thing for a long time, most notably in his notorious 1989 Harper's essay, 'Stalking The Billion-Footed Beast', where he muttered that writers need a fuller engagement with their subjects, and that journalistic fact-finding and social realism a la Dickens was the way forward.

Well, at least one person seems to be listening: Gary Shteyngart, author of the much-praised Absurdistan, who says: "There's quite a lot of nonfiction or thinly disguised fiction in [Absurdistan]. It's like what V.S. Naipaul said about how relevant can fiction really be, but we can't leave it all to the blogs, as good as some of them are. In the cultural sense, the writer really needs to be part of the world. I can tell you, when I ...stayed at a Hyatt and saw hookers chasing Halliburton executives down the hall, I knew I had to write about it."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Great American Yeti

In the New York Times, A.O. Scott exhumes once again the body of the Great American Novel: "The hippogriff, a monstrous hybrid of griffin and horse, is often taken as the very symbol of fantastical impossibility, a unicorn's unicorn. But the Great American Novel, while also a hybrid (crossbred of romance and reportage, high philosophy and low gossip, wishful thinking and hard-nosed skepticism), may be more like the yeti or the Loch Ness monster - or sasquatch, if we want to keep things homegrown. It is, in other words, a creature that quite a few people - not all of them certifiably crazy, some of them bearing impressive documentation - claim to have seen."

He goes on to discuss the NYTBR's attempt to get writers, critics and academicians to point to "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years." Their top five, in ascending order: American Pastoral, with 7 votes; Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and Updike's four-in-one Rabbit Angstrom, tied with 8 votes each; Don DeLillo's Underworld, with 11; and, solidly ahead of the rest, Toni Morrison's Beloved, with 15.

Remarkable. Perhaps what helped is that Beloved is, as he puts it, "a staple of the college literary curriculum."

Now, does anyone want to attempt to list the best novels by Indians writing in English in the last 25 years? (Which rules out Midnight's Children -- it's been just over 25 years since that was published.)

I Want My Manuscript Back

So says Haruki Murakami, after it was discovered that one of his editors had sold several of his manuscripts (written in longhand) to bookstores in Tokyo. The Japan Writer's Association agrees with him, having decided "to come up with a document stating that writers have ownership over their manuscripts."

Oh, and if you have some spare change and a literary bent of mind, do visit Tokyo's Jinbocho antiquarian book district: it's supposed to be full of manuscripts by famous authors. One by Junichiro Tanizaki is for 4.5 million yen, another by Yukio Mishima for 6.5 million yen and one by Shugoro Yamamoto is going for 2.5 million yen.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Rushdie-Sen Conversation

A conversation between Amartya Sen and Salman Rushdie took place last week as part of the PEN New York World Voices festival. Here's a brief discussion of the event, as well as a downloadable audio file of the entire thing. Haven't heard it yet -- too much other stuff going on -- but looking forward to doing so tonight.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Refreshing Statement Of The Week

“I’ve been brought up extremely well by the readers. People come up and tell me what a fine book Cuckold is and how it reminds them of The Far Pavilions at which point I realise I must be an appalling writer! I wish I was, at least, [as] successful as MM Kaye and made a lot of money.”

- Kiran Nagarkar, in The Economic Times

Remembering Indrani

A friend emails to say that the recent plagiarism controversy puts him in mind of the unfortunate Indrani Aikath-Gyaltsen, and sends a link to an earlier Washington Post article on her case:

"What led 41-year-old Indrani Aikath-Gyaltsen, a promising but wildly insecure writer, to plagiarize from Elizabeth Goudge, a romance author almost as popular in her day as Danielle Steel is now? The deception was sure to be uncovered and, over the last two months, it was.

Aikath-Gyaltsen isn't around to answer any questions. On Oct. 3, she wrote a short letter to Khushwant Singh, one of India's best-known contemporary authors and her mentor. "I am still in a very bad frame of mind," she wrote. "Afraid to live, afraid to die. But you are right. Only I can help myself."

Later that day a niece reportedly found her sprawled on the floor of her Bihar house with "something white dripping from her mouth, leading to the belief that it was poison," said Uttam Sengupta, editor of the Bihar edition of the Times of India. She died the next day."

A Poignant And Compelling Post

In the Times, Ben McIntyre writes a wince-inducing piece on the language book reviewers use, and what it really means. A sample:

Wears its scholarship lightly. Author is not a real scholar. But I am.

Imaginative. Fiction reviewers use this to describe a book that they wish they had written; nonfiction reviewers use it to describe a book they do not believe.

Compelling. I managed to finish it.

Painfully funny / sad / poignant / long. Demonstrates the deep sensitivity of the reviewer. A health warning also attaches to any book described as achingly, eye-wateringly or heart-stoppingly anything.