Prufrock's Page

Saturday, June 24, 2006


"The method of Shielding Her Modesty is classically logistical: conflicts and classifications as well as syntheses (fated to fail) are governed by rigorous laws of antecedent and consequent, causal or associative. Finally, the texts are elemental: similar (but far from identical) characters act and react in analogous ways to cognate situations; the resulting array of tightly integrated patterns creates a dystopia of in-betweenness.'

- From a review of Sita Bhaskar's Shielding Her Modesty in The Virginia Quarterly Review.
(Somewhat more accessible reviews here and here.)

Another Giveaway

Spent the morning in front of bookshelves, cursing property prices in Mumbai. Emerged cobwebbed and dusty with another lot of books to give away, listed below in no particular order. This time around, no more than three titles per person, please. Will mail them to the first person who e-mails -- mentioning the titles, along with a mailing address. Your time starts now.

Bitter Chocolate: Child Sexual Abuse in India, by Pinki Virani*
The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier, by Bruce Sterling
Stamboul Train, by Graham Greene
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, by Alexander McCall Smith
Forest of the Pygmies, by Isabel Allende*
Life Lessons, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler*
The Jane Austen Book Club, by Karen Joy Fowler
Waiting For Snow in Havana, by Carlos Eire*
Days of Innocence: Stories For Ruskin Bond

Update: Zigzackly, the Marauder's Map and Banjo are early claimants; the books marked with asterisks, above, are still available.

Dreaming When You're Awake

He writes the way a jazz musician extemporises - guided by impulse, without a plan. "I didn't have a teacher or a colleague as a writer, so the only way I knew was good music - rhythm, improvisation, harmony. I just know how to begin. If I knew how to finish, it wouldn't be fun because I'd know what would happen next. Writing is like dreaming when you're awake."

- From a fascinating profile of and interview with Haruki Murakami on the occasion of the publication of his new book of short stories.

Et Tu?

"[W]ho was that erudite-looking chap at the Brazil-Croatia game? It was none other than Salman Rushdie, watching the match (in the cup holder's colours) together with a Brazilian publisher. Rushdie is big in Brazil after speaking at the country's equivalent of the Hay festival last year. "

- From a report in The Guardian

A Good Sex In Fiction Award

Why can't women novelists write about sex, asks Marion Halligan, without being greeted by embarrassment and titters?

" Why should that challenge people, even threaten them? Especially men reading about women doing it. How useful it would be if they could admit this feeling, and examine it. What about a good sex in fiction award? For good writing about good sex. Wouldn't that be fun? "

Getting Edgy

John Updike's dismay at Kevin Kelly's article on digital publishing has been widely reported. Now that the author's Terrorist is ensconced on the New York Times bestseller lists (his 15th to put in an appearance here) he writes a more comprehensive piece on his feelings, singing the praises of independent bookstores, among other things:

"Books traditionally have edges: some are rough-cut, some are smooth-cut, and a few, at least at my extravagant publishing house, are even top-stained. In the electronic anthill, where are the edges? The book revolution, which, from the Renaissance on, taught men and women to cherish and cultivate their individuality, threatens to end in a sparkling cloud of snippets.

"So, booksellers, defend your lonely forts. Keep your edges dry. Your edges are our edges. For some of us, books are intrinsic to our sense of personal identity."

Hear, hear.

Friday, June 23, 2006

'There Are Only Two Kinds Of Books: Bedside And Wastebasket'

Dostoevsky: “A third rate writer”. Eliot: “A fraud and a fake". Thomas Mann: “This ponderous conventionalist, this tower of triteness”. Ezra Pound: “Disgusting and entirely second-rate”.

No, that's not V.S. Naipaul, but Vladimir Nabokov, who made no secret of his fastidious literary tastes, especially in his letters to Edmund Wilson. In this piece, Naben Ruthum analyses his likes and dislikes.

Travelling With Pico

Pico Iyer lists his all-time favourite travel books:

Colossus of Maroussi, by Henry MIller
The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald
The Inland Sea, by Donald Richie
The Gentleman in the Parlour: A Record of a Journey from Rangoon to Haiphong, by Somerset Maugham

Bothered By Bad Writing

In the Indian Express, Nonita Kalra asserts :"...nothing bothers me more than bad writing". The specific targets of her ire are Ira Trivedi's What Would You Do To Save The World and that other book by the 19-year-old Harvard student who got caught. Ms Kalra continues: "The issue is not that one book is petty and the other plagiarised, the greater issue is that both books are horribly written." Calling ChickLit "trash", she admonishes these two: "...ladies, spare us. Stop writing." Ah, well. As long as the media writes about them and as long as people buy them, such things will continue to get written -- by men or by women.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Freud, Rilke, Salome

Non-fiction accounts of incidents from the lives of cultural icons seem to be all the rage. There was the entertaining Wittgenstein's Poker, the disappointing Proust At The Majestic -- and now, there's Freud's Requiem, a meditation on a country ramble that Freud was supposed to have undertaken with Rilke and Lou Andreas Salome. "Intellectual history made personal and dramatic," is what Hanif Kureishi says of this book: "At a time when Freud's irrelevance is gleefully celebrated, von Unwerth [the auuthor] illustrates the truth of Trilling's remark that Freud is 'a quarry not an edifice' - that, far from having been dismissed, his work continues to generate new work, like a burst of fresh associations. There are few, if any, brain scientists or behavioural therapists of whom this can be said."

One Trusts This One Will Be Better

Actually, this wasn’t the book I was planning to write next. I started a different book, the one I’m writing now, which is actually set in a hotel-restaurant kitchen in London and in the north of England. But I kept starting the first chapter, trying to force myself to focus in one particular direction, and all I could think about were the Alentejos, this region in Portugal where I’d been spending quite a lot of time. A series of images kept going off: an old man in a black felt fedora, a young local girl texting her boyfriend on her mobile phone and a man with a suitcase who was always walking away from me, although I didn’t know who he was or where he was going. In the end, I thought, “If you’re feeling a compulsion to write about something, the thing to do is to go with it.”

- Monica Ali on Alentejo Blue

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Anglo-Indian Writing

One isn't too aware of novels that deal with Anglo-Indians -- the titles that come to mind are Ruskin Bond's The Room on the Roof and Hugh and Colleen Gantzer's The Year Before Sunset, as well as Laura Roychowdhuri's moving travelogue/love story, The Jadu House. Now, Peter Carty in The Independent reviews Glen Duncan's The Bloodstone Papers, a novel that deals with Anglo-Indian Ross Munro's departure from India: "His tale is narrated in present-day London by his son, Owen, writing a novel based around his father's recollections. Another link to the past is Owen's efforts to trace his father's old enemy Skinner, a debonair Englishman who Ross believes betrayed him." Carty finds much to praise here: "Duncan's historical research...has produced flawless results: I can vouch for that, because my mother is Anglo-Indian. A myriad of fine detail captures this forgotten race: their blinkered sentimentality, unwavering Christian faith and easy affinity with all things Indian - other than, sadly, the Indians themselves." Perhaps its not as much research as memory; Duncan himself was born of an Anglo-Indian family, after all.

Discarding Darkness

"Recently an African-American graduate student approached me at the end of class, in the middle of the semester, carrying a small paperback edition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a text in a course I was teaching on obsession. She placed the book on my desk and said: 'Professor Davis, you keep it. I’m not going to be reading this anymore'...I asked the students: How do we handle the intersection of progressive and regressive themes in a single work? Do we expect writers of the past to have the same values we do now? And so on....[But] I found myself moving toward the decision not to teach Heart of Darkness anymore....Every decade has taught me something about this work, something worth underlining. But my latest learning experience has taught me that this text, which has been mined for so much meaning and inspiration, perhaps needs to be discarded.”

- Lennard J. Davis, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, cautiously and honestly calls for a rethink of "classic" works.

Oh, No

Canadian literary icon Alice Munro is expected to announce at a Toronto fundraiser tonight that she has written her last book. Munro is scheduled to give a reading at a benefit and book launch for Writing Life, a PEN Canada anthology of essays from 50 Canadian and international authors that is scheduled to hit stores July 1. In her contribution to the volume, Munro cites a tremor in her writing nerves in the face of constant interruptions and advancing age. (She will be 75 next month.) She says she can quit writing "in the interests of a manageable life" and with the knowledge that it's rare for outstanding work to be produced in a author's later years, "so one or two books fewer won't really be anybody's loss.

Many will beg to differ.

Gay Lit

"[I]t could be said that gay novels and short stories are among the best being written anywhere now," says Edmund White in the Village Voice. And it's not just Hollinghurst and Cunningham he's talking about: he cites as examples the work of newcomers John Weir, Vestal McIntyre and Barry McCrea, among others. (All names unknown to one, by the way.) In a double-edged conclusion, he says: "Whereas being cultured was once the entrance fee for being gay, now the gay community has dumbed down like the rest of the population. But ... the current gay literary moment is quietly, almost invisibly adding brilliant new names to a canon that is unknown except to the happy few."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The First Time

It's a bumper year for first-time published authors, says Catherine Lockerbie, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and one of the judges of the Orange Award for New Writers (won by Naomi Alderman for Disobedience). Ms Lockerbie writes: "Something remarkable is happening. Despite the impossibility of it all, writers are determined to write; readers are determined to read; publishers will publish and be damned; prizes and festivals which help support the primacy of powerfully good writing seem unafraid of the as yet undiscovered and untested," going on to cite the work of authors such as Yiyun Li and Olga Grushin as proof.

A Talk With James Wood

"...instead of thinking of realism as a genre, it makes much more sense to think of it as the central language of the novel, the thing that would connect Defoe and Austen to Naipaul, say. And obviously the thing, if you’re writing in English that actually comes ultimately from Shakespeare: not at all a genre, but the central language."

The Kenyon Review prints a long, capacious and wholly impressive conversation with uber-critic James Wood. Please read it.

(Link courtesy Maud Newton.)

McGahern Memoir

Irish writer John McGahern, who passed away recently, was widely admired as one of the most limpid prose writers of recent times. Certainly, the one book of his that one has read -- That They May Face The Rising Sun -- was admirable in its capacity to build large effects though the patient, careful and unshowy delineation of day-to-day living in rural Ireland. His last book, a memoir entitled All Will Be Well, however, doesn't seem to have impressed Floyd Skloot, who writes in the Virginia Quarterly Review:

"Sad and mournful, especially as it remembers the mother, All Will Be Well is also, understandably, an angry, often ferocious book. As it progresses, and as the scenes of abuse are presented without significant shades of difference, its details tend to proliferate rather than penetrate. McGahern seems to be building up an elaborate case against his father, to be settling the score by incorporating as many instances as he can, even though the point has already and devastatingly been made. He is a more rigorous fiction writer than memoirist."


Critic Christopher Isherwood dismissed the Broadway show Jewtopia as "so much tasteless matzo ball soup", following this up by saying it was "shlocky but apparently unstoppable."

But read the fine print in the ABC advertisements in The New York Times and you'll find, on occasion, the following: "Unstoppable" — Charles Isherwood, New York Times.

Here, he vents on the scheming ways of "advertising and marketing specialists."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Editorial Process

Ellen Seligman, vice-president of McClelland & Stewart, the Canadian publishing house, has worked with the likes of Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Rohinton Mistry, Jane Urquhart and Leonard Cohen, among others. In this interview, she shares her thoughts on the editing process: "I do not subscribe to the belief that editors are, by definition, ego-less, unthanked, and all that stuff. I actually get annoyed when I hear that. By and large, [as an editor] you are bringing your own ego, your own mind, your own responses, your own creativity. That's part of the editorial process."

Murakami's Garden

“If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden," says Haruki Murakami. His new collection of short stories, Blind Willow Sleeping Woman, is out in the UK, and in The Times, Ruth Scurr seems not quite sure what to make of this garden of ice men, ear doctors and men with hunting knives stuck in their heads.