Prufrock's Page

Friday, September 08, 2006

Forget The Novels, Pass The Sushi

There's the Virginia Woolf Burger bar at the Hotel Russell in Bloomsbury, and the Ernest Hemingway Furniture Collection in the US. And now, an account of a visit to the Murakami restaurant in Japan.

Literary Civility

One had earlier written about James Wood and Zadie Smith shaking hands and making up. Well, another, more intense and longer-running literary feud seems to have ended: that between Julian Barnes and Martin Amis. Oliver Duff reports:

"I am delighted to announce that Julian Barnes and Martin Amis were seen locked in discussion and a 'fraternal embrace' at Hyde Park's Serpentine Gallery on Wednesday night, during the paperback launch party for Barnes's novel, Arthur & George."

Check the report out for the sordid tale of dental work and henpecked husbands.

Can someone now tell Tom Wolfe to make nice with Irving, Mailer and Updike?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Uses Of Anonymity

A senior editor at The New Republic was suspended and his blog was shut down on Friday after revelations that he was involved in anonymously attacking readers who criticized his posts.

The editor in question: Lee Siegel.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Chennai's Big Little Bookshop

An appropriately short report on the small but packed Giggles in Chennai. Here's owner Nalini Chettur: "In spite of TV, in spite of the internet my customer base has become larger. I have more people coming in because they want specialist books and books which I recommend and books where they want to be introduced to new writing...Can you sit under a tree and read an e-book? Can you share it with three or four people? Pass the book around if you're reading poetry? That's why a book is almost a living thing,"

Monday, September 04, 2006

Watching The Night Watch

A review of The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters (Virago), part of Veena's Booker Mela

Sarah Waters must rue the day she half-mockingly referred to her work as “Victorian lesbian romps." Every review of her books so far – including this one – has to mention it at least once. The fact remains, though, that with Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet, she skillfully turned the Victorian genre on its head through structural devices and feminist perspectives. (There is a case to be made for John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman being the forerunner of all such work, including Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs and Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White.)

With The Night Watch, Waters turns her attention away from the reign of Victoria to focus on civilian life during the Second World War. This is the interlinked story of the secret lives of three women and a man in London, in the shadow of the Blitz. There’s Kay, an ambulance driver whom people call “mannish”; the disturbed Helen, her sometime lover; Vivian, who’s involved with a married soldier; and Duncan, her brother, who lives with the shifty Uncle Horace.

Tarantino has said of his films – especially Pulp Fiction – that he prefers the answers-first-questions-later structure, and so it is in this book, with Waters narrating the stories of her characters back to front -- the novel begins in 1947, moves to 1944 and finally ends with a section set in 1941. Though backward narration has been tried before with mixed results – in Martin Amis’ Time’s Arrow for example – Water’s felicity of expression makes this approach seem apt here. As one of the characters in the book, who watches the second half of films first, says (a trifle unnecessarily): “I almost prefer them that way – people’s pasts, you know, being so much more interesting than their futures”.

Another defining strength of the novel is that Waters has clearly immersed herself in research without letting it overwhelm her: the streets, homes, clothes and prosaic details of everyday life of the Forties are impeccably detailed and woven into the whole. Such verisimilitude is comforting: we are in the hands of a craftsman who knows much and cares about her work.

However, one wouldn’t go so far as to call The Night Watch an unqualified success. For a start, because we’re introduced to characters coping with their current lot and are driven to find out the ultimate reasons thereof, the middle section does tend to sag. And next, the need to interconnect characters makes coincidence and chance appear a bit too often and too obviously. Thankfully, these blemishes aren’t disfiguring; Waters does manage to ably pull off this tale of characters in the grip of history, evolving strategies to deal with society’s pressures and expectations and moving inexorably into the twilight.

Word And Image

Pointing out that blogs with images -- preferably those involving bikinis -- will always be a bigger draw than humble word-oriented litblogs, Finn Harvor calls for new thinking and new forms:

"[Speaking of] the relationship between the relatively small world of litblogging and the massive world of the image: what's been said here doesn't mean all literature needs to incorporate images. But it does mean there needs to be conscious recognition of the role images now play, for better or worse, in our culture. So we need to be more open-minded about experimenting with new forms. This means not only recognizing that the book can be both text and image, but also that maybe this is a tendency that should be encouraged. Images can work with art rather than be a distraction from it."

Biography As Detection

"In letters [Eudora] Welty wrote, especially toward the end of her life, she said she often dreamed in galley proofs, and the struggle of the dream consisted of trying to make corrections on the type. She wrote at a desk with her back to the window, the quiet cruise and trespass of tourists insufficiently obscured outside. If her life had fallen into a trap or two, well, the world is full of traps of all sorts and one can find some writer or other in each and every one of them. Literary biography is like detective fiction for those who don't need suspense."

- The delightful Lorrie Moore reviews a biography of one of her heroines.