Prufrock's Page

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Enchantress Of Florence... the title of Rushdie's new book, set in the court of Emperor Akbar and in Florence. Let's hope it continues the return to form that was displayed in Shalimar the Clown. It's to be published on April 3, 2008. (Via.)

Obviously, The Man Has Never Worked In A Company

“When you sit down to write something, it should mean something. This is a day of your life that you’re never going to get back. This is a day you should be doing something well. This is something that should be the culmination of a lot thinking you’ve already been doing... I don’t think you should write anything knowing you’re going to throw it away.”

- Richard Ford

Now We Know Where That Beatles Reference Came From

As it turns out, the famously curmudgeonly, pop-music-hating, child-abhorring Philip Larkin spent some time with a fellow-poet's family in 1964, playing with their children when they were listening to the stereo and even writing a Beatles-type song for them: "Don't like your song/ It gets me down./ It's much too long,/ It makes me frown./ Can't think why this God-awful noise/ Makes daughters miss their dates with boys." The mind boggles.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Neuroscience And The Novel

A.S. Byatt has an extremely thought-provoking essay -- in more ways than one -- in the TLS about how changes in the presentation of human nature over the ages have affected the novel. From characters with immortal souls to love being the only thing that matters to the life as the expression of the libido and the selfish gene, all of this has been grist to the mill of novelists. Now, of course, we stand at the frontiers of a new comprehension of the mind. As Byatt writes, "Neuroscience, and the study of the activity of the brain, is beginning to bring its own illumination to our understanding of how art works, and what it is. I have come to see the delight in making connections – of which metaphor-making is one of the most intense – as perhaps the fundamental reason for art and its pleasures."

In just a slightly different context, one can think of at least two other novelists who have been inspired by scientific studies of how consciousness works: David Lodge, in his Thinks... (also see his essay, Consciousness and the Novel) and Richard Powers, with his Galatea 2.2 as well as the more recent The Echo Maker.

Myers' Manifesto

One can't help but admire B.R. Myers' independent, if utterly audacious viewpoint -- even if one wonders whether he's taking his agenda too far. Consider his review of Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke. Now, this is a novel that has been lauded by critics all over, being mentioned in more than one "best of the year" list (Here's what The Washington Post said, for example: "To write a fat novel about the Vietnam War nearly 35 years after it ended is an act of literary bravado. To do so as brilliantly as Denis Johnson has in Tree of Smoke is positively a miracle").

But Myers isn't impressed. He tears the prose and the subject to bits, with ample quotations from the book to prove his point. Fair enough: the man's entitled to dislike the book, and he's given reasons aplenty for doing so. But he doesn't stop there. He also takes petulant issue with the critics who've reviewed it favourably, finding it "difficult to believe" that they like the novel. And he positively froths at the mouth when he writes: "...once we Americans have ushered a writer into the contemporary pantheon, we will lie to ourselves to keep him there."

Good heavens. And people thought his A Reader's Manifesto went too far.

The Worst Of Times

As a struggling writer, do you find yourself writing in short, simple sentences using relatively few characters, featuring melodramatic plots heavy on violence, sex and tear-jerking sentiment? Don't worry: you'll sell millions in Japan.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Another Literary Light Turned Off

Critic, essayist and author Elizabeth Hardwick died yesterday. She was 91. From a 1979 interview: "...I call myself a feminist in that I believe there are cultural, social and economic boundaries set for women which are immoral and unnecessary and which should be resisted publicly and privately." Says Joyce Carol Oates: "She was a brilliant essayist, absolutely. She was a kind of genius in that difficult form, in which the personal and the critical, or cultural, were melded together in brilliant prose."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The GAN? It's Gone

There was a time when British novelists looked over their shoulders to find their American counterparts trumping them in every way, be it in style, ambition or theme. (Martin Amis, for one, has always been open about his admiration for Saul Bellow.) The Great American Novel always seemed to be around the corner, whether that corner was in Manhattan or in the Deep South. But now, says John Walsh, with the passing of Norman Mailer and the senescence of his contemporaries, it's time to sing a sad elegy for that mythical beast. Yet, as Walsh doesn't point out, though the novel may be in less grandoise hands in the States, the short story continues to thrive -- as a look at The New Granta Book of The American Short Story edited by Richard Ford will reveal. Ironically, it's perhaps this emphasis on short fiction in American writing programs that leads short story writers to come up with novels that, though competent and well-judged, are less than great. (Now, a moment's silence to recall the words of Nadine Gordimer, who claimed that the short story was the form for our age, "where contact is more like the flash of fireflies, in and out, now here, now there, in darkness. Short-story writers see by the light of the flash; theirs is the only thing one can be sure of - the present moment.")

Fidel, We Hardly Knew Ye

Two conversations one had on the telephone this morning; the first, with Crossword, the second, with Danai.


"Hello, do you have the Fidel Castro autobiography?"
"Fidel Castro."
"How do you spell that....F-A-D..."
"Oh. No, we don't have it."


"Hello, do you have the Fidel Castro autobiography?"
"Could you spell that...K-A-S-"
"No, no record of it here."