Prufrock's Page

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Non-review

Newsweek's Malcolm Jones was given Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games to review -- and put it down "after more than 100 pages". In his defence, in this non-review, he says: "the first 100 pages are good but not great." And: "My time is precious. Your time is, too. Who has enough time in the day to do all that we want?" In a further attempt to universalise his predicament, he adds: "Almost no one has time to read indiscriminately for pleasure these days."

Maybe so, but you're a book reviewer, Mr Jones. The so-many-books-so-little-time plea just isn't going to cut it.

(Link courtesy The Literary Saloon.)

Feuds Are Back In Fashion

In a delayed reaction to Tibor Fischer's coruscating 2002 review of Yellow Dog, Martin Amis this week called his fellow novelist "a creep and a wretch," adding, for good measure: "Oh yeah: and a fat-arse." That's the spirit, Martin.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Some bloggers are off to Rajasthan for the Jaipur Literature Festival. Another is discovering the joys of commuting in a new city. Yet another seems to be on a pan-European jaunt. Which leaves one sitting here staring glumly at office walls. Shades of the prison house begin to close upon the ageing blogger.

Globe-spanning Fiction

The longlist for The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has been announced and Boyd Tonkin, one of the judges, says it's never looked richer or broader: "Our pick from a year's harvest of newly-translated works of fiction stretches in language from Turkish to Gikuyu to Norwegian; in setting, from the mountain villages of Tibet to a mysterious Greek island to the crumbling mansions of Havana; and in authorship, from a young French sensation to a Dutch-exiled Iranian refugee to a Portuguese Nobel literature laureate."

Writing For Wives

At a time when Calvin Trillin's ode to his wife, About Alice, is reveiving warm and respectful reviews, it's salutary to recall -- as Slate's Meghan O'Rourke does -- the love songs of Thomas Hardy, which he began writing at the ripe age of 72: "...when Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and other Modernists were breaking open the conventions available to poets, Hardy deployed traditional English ballad forms and archaic, sometimes awkward, inversions. He saw celebrating the 'old ways' of England as one of his missions. Yet the best of the poems about Emma fit no category, and his traditionalism obscures a kind of radical modernity, an outlook that pierced through Victorian pieties to see the bedrock truth of an actual marriage."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Reviewing Without Reading

Former Punch writer Miles Kington weighs in with some advice on how to write a book review: "Evelyn Waugh once said that the golden rule of book reviewing is that you should never give a bad review to a book you have not read. This is now seen as rather old-fashioned and romantic. No book reviewer ever has time to read the whole book, not for the money they are paying you. The vital thing is to give the impression that you HAVE read the whole book."

Stranger Than Fiction

The novelist Ian McEwan has discovered that a bricklayer is the older brother he never knew he had, following the man's quest to uncover his roots.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Mother Of All Top Tens

Here, in all its glory, is the all-time, ultimate Top Top 10 list, derived from the top 10 lists of 125 of the world's most celebrated writers combined.

The Amis Answer

Readers of The Independent recently had the opportunity to send Martin Amis questions to answer. Here's one, by Jonathan Brooks: "The phrase 'horrorism', which you invented to describe 9/11, is unintentionally hilarious. Have you got any more?"

Amis' answer: "Yes, I have. Here's a good one (though I can hardly claim it as my own): the phrase is 'fuck off'."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Writing For Oneself

"Somewhere between a critic's necessary superficiality and a writer's natural dishonesty, the truth of how we judge literary success or failure is lost," says Zadie Smith in this piece which tries to make the case that it's "the development or otherwise of [the writer's] self" that matters.

Quite A Key Seminar

Ian McEwan. Amy Tan. Joyce Carol Oates. Wally Lamb. Jeffrey Eugenides. Michael Cunningham. Margaret Atwood. Billy Collins. In most seminars, these names would attract legions of fans. In Key West Literary Seminar, they turn into fans themselves.

The Problem Of An Encore

"I don't know how I'll do it, whether its going to be a book between India, divided into a group of families or between countries or whether I'll be able to bring in a Latin American experience too....And then I think maybe it's a matter of writing a different kind of book -- just to play more. Good writing doesn't come from being happy and winning prizes, it comes from doubt. It comes from a difficult place."

- Kiran Desai

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Decline Of Fiction

Rod Liddle throws aside Updike's Terrorist after reading merely 64 pages, and wonders what has happened to contemporary fiction, why it's lost the power to shock and why it ought to return to its role of an ice-ax to break the frozen sea inside all of us: "Literary fiction, it seemed to me, had stopped doing what literary fiction does best: getting beneath the skin of a subject, to the viscera, without even always intending to so do. It had started being like every other form of mass entertainment, aiming wide and broad, hoping to alienate nobody."

It's a persuasively-argued piece, one that references Banville's review of McEwan's Saturday, the Ben Marcus-Jonathan Franzen dust-up and dwells on the strengths of today's non-fiction titles. But one was more than a tad surprised to find, in his list of books that "can still disturb and enlighten", Martin Amis' Yellow Dog. Why, one threw that book aside oneself, and well before page 64.

Lost Again In Translation

While admiring the new Richard Pevear (this time minus Volokhonsky) translation of Dumas' The Three Musketeers ("It's fluent, vivid and its Gallicisms and occasional lapses don't get in the way of a glamorously racketing story") Peter Craven wonders why new translations are necessary at all: "A great book's greatness can be glimpsed in any translation, but new translations, however beautifully packaged, will not necessarily mean verbal improvement. The risk is rather the other way."