Prufrock's Page

Friday, March 23, 2007

Adjectives For Mohsin

"Elegant...Clever...Tense...Polished...Ingenious." Looks like Aamer Hussein likes Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Something McEwan Understands

The indefatigable Literary Saloon points one to the first review of Ian McEwan's new novel, On Chesil Beach, by Philip Hensher in The Spectator: "The novel is saved by an honest familiarity with individual psychology, and by the fact that it is, really, all about sex, which McEwan certainly does understand."

Books, Alive And Kicking

"Anyone who thought that the web was going to kill books has to explain the fact that at the very least there are now millions more waiting to be killed off," writes Victor Keegan in this round-up of the Websites that are redefining how we read.

Banville On Irish Writing

TEV reports from a John Banville reading: "Irish writers, for the moment, have given up the struggle with style. It's been done so well." He went on to add, deprecatingly, that "The struggle with language is idiotic." He quoted Flaubert's mother, who said "My son threw away his life for a mania with sentences."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rushdie At Hofstra

Apart from reprising the now-familiar lines of "not messing with novelists" because when it comes to the man who issued the fatwa, "one of us is dead", Salman Rushdie also spoke at Hofstra University about how the way a novel is created is not newsworthy, compared to the frivolities of celebrity life: "Britney's hairstyle, news. How Paris Hilton moved from being a cheap hotel to cheap person, news."

(Link courtesy The Literary Saloon.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Save Us From Those Who Want To Write

In Auden's centenary year, The Times reproduces a piece of his on 'creative' writing. Acerbic, cutting, funny -- and true: "It is surely astonishing how many young people of both sexes, when asked what they want to be in life, give neither a sensible answer like 'a lawyer, a farmer, an innkeeper', nor a romantic answer like 'an explorer, a racing motorist, a missionary, President of the United States'. No, an astonishing number reply 'a writer', and by writing they mean — dreadful word — 'creative' writing. Even if they say: 'I want to go into journalism', this is only because they are under the illusion that in that profession they will be able to create. Even if their most genuine desire is really to make money, they will still make for some highly paid sub-literary pursuit like Advertising."

Pride And Prejudice And Jane Austen

Is she Britain's greatest novelist? Or simply a joyless provincial?

We All Should Be So Lucky

"I find [writing] easy because I love doing it. When I first started, I had a great logjam waiting to be released. I wrote four books in four years and then I felt emptied out. So then I concentrated on short stories and music while I waited for the waters in the lake to fill up again. Now I feel full up again and ready to go."

- Louis de Bernières

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Broadband Longlist

The Orange Prize has added the word "Broadband" to its name this year, to reflect the company's foray into the online market -- but the word seems apt considering the longlist announced yesterday: it features "20 novels from seven different countries, and pits eight first-time novelists against six longlist veterans, a Booker winner and one author - Margaret Forster - who has 23 novels to her name."

Beckett's Last Tape

A supposedly esoteric new show at Paris' Pompidou Centre presents Samuel Beckett as "a lasting cultural force", featuring memorablia, portraits as well as inspirations and influences -- from Chaplin to Irish artist Sean Scully. Interestingly enough, "none of the films shows Beckett himself, who was notoriously private: he married in secret, did not attend his own Nobel Prize ceremony and never allowed himself to be filmed. The closest viewers can come to experiencing the writer firsthand is a three-minute audio recording of him reading an unidentified text in his raspy lyrical voice, which plays on a small speaker near the exit."

Reinventing The Bookshop

With books increasingly available in multiple formats -- among them digital "e-books" and audio versions downloadable to your iPod -- what's to prevent people from bypassing brick-and-mortar bookstores entirely, further undercutting enterprises already under pressure from online competitors?

Monday, March 19, 2007

'Long Live The Novelist's Task'

"We need fiction to stretch our world," wrote Susan Sontag in one of her last essays, collected in At The Same Time, published this month: "A great writer of fiction both creates - through acts of imagination, through language that feels inevitable, through vivid forms - a new world, a world that is unique, individual; and responds to a world, the world the writer shares with other people but is unknown or mis-known by still more people, confined in their worlds: call that history, society, what you will." (The collection is reviewed by Pankaj Mishra, with typical gravitas, in The New York Times; he ends on this insightful note: "...the melancholy and occasional bitter wisdom of her last writings appear to be of a mature and passionately engaged American rather than of a marginal and jaded European sensibility.")

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Apocalyptic America

The talented and thoughful Siddhartha Deb reviews Jim Crace's The Pesthouse, contrasting it with McCarthy's The Road: "Unlike McCarthy, whose dystopia is built on what he sees as a characteristically American flaw in which community ties dissolve easily to reveal ruthless individualism, Crace's characters are ultimately not American so much as alone. Without history, without progress, having run out of continent, they can begin all over again. On the pages of this moving, lyrical novel, at least, they are innocents at home."

Whatever Happened To 'Write What You Know'?

Paul Torday’s recent debut novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, about a fictional project to create a salmon river in the highlands of the Yemen, was a critical and commercial success. Yet Torday never visited Yemen before writing his book: it was only last week that he went there for the first time.

Waiting For A New Orwell

In The Guardian, Henry Porter asks: "...where are the novelists with their indictments of government and society? Where are exposés of some unregarded part of the termite heap? Where are the dramatists who can barely speak for their anger?" Though Mr Porter grudgingly concedes that an artist's first responsibility ought to be to him- or herself, his piece seems disingenuous in that he expects writers to speak for society and adopt lofty, moralistic tones -- making the mistaken assumption that good writers have the ability to choose the material that moves them to compose.