Prufrock's Page

Friday, January 18, 2008

Loosen Up, LitMags

Editor Dan Crowe talks of the present and future of literary magazines, using Granta as a case in point: "With the deaths of George Plimpton, founder of the Paris Review, and Barbara Epstein, a founding editor of the New York Review of Books, and the change of ownership at Granta, this is a critical time not just for Granta but also for the future of the literary journal as an art form. It is no longer enough for a literary magazine to publish 'good writing', or even 'new writing'. We've got the internet now. When Plimpton founded the Paris Review it was an act of rebellion; similarly for Bill Buford when he relaunched Granta in the 1970s. They wanted to shake things up a bit. With the new owner in place, it is time for another shake-up. Granta must loosen up; it must rock and roll. It must not only seek to publish good writing, but it must seek to become original again - original and broad-minded in the ways it communicates with its readers."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Amis Again

Apologies for going on about Martin Amis' new book yet again, but here's another review by David Aaronovitch that's more sympathetic, more considered, and, as such, definitely worth reading: "Through Qutb and others Amis came to the realisation, chronicled in The Second Plane, that Islamism itself was a problem, since what it loathed about the West was, as Amis puts it, not our active seductiveness, but our passive attraction. 'We should understand,' he writes, 'that Islamists' hatred of America is as much abstract as historical, and irrationally abstract too; none of the usual things can be expected to appease it.' Amis connects this existential envy to the political failure of Islam and attributes this in turn to the suppression of women in many Muslim countries."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Great, But Can We Have Banville Back, Please?

The New York Times Sunday magazine begins to serialise Benjamin Black's new novel, The Lemur.

More Elmore

After Stephen King, it's Elmore Leonard's turn to tell you about what makes writing stand out, with his Ten Rules of Good Writing. Rule # 10: "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." Simple, no?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Wodehouse, The Realist

David Twiston-Davies reviews A Wodehouse Handbook: The World and Words of P. G. Wodehouse by N.P.T. Murphy: "The great myth about P.G. Wodehouse, until he died at 93 in 1975, was that his characters had only the vaguest connection with reality. They were solely the fruit of one man's fantasies, nurtured over decades while living abroad, it was claimed. 'Wodehousean' has come to imply a world of idle Etonians little touched by the Fall of Man, while 'Bertie Woosterish' is an insult employed by the Left against anyone it wants to tar as an ally of the House of Lords. Colonel Norman Murphy started investigating the matter more than a generation ago, and these two stout volumes contain some of the most dedicated sleuthing in the history of literary detective work. " This ought to be fun to read. Of course, chances that it'll be available at any library or bookstore around here are marginal. You'd have to visit one of the world's 10 best bookshops. (What, none from India? What an insult to our national pride. Quick, let's start a protest.)


Reviews of Martin Amis' views on a post-9/11 world, The Second Plane, are being written, and all of them will, inevitably, mention Terry Eagleton. Such as this one (forgive the long extract, but something like this will be at the heart of all discussions of the book): "One of the arguments that runs through this book is that barbarism is all but indistinguishable from religion and that the opposite of religious belief is not atheism, but independence of mind. The highest expression of independent minds in western enlightened culture is, to Amis, its literary fiction ('reason at play'). His personal struggle against the 'dependent mind' of Islam is thus fought on the level of playful language.

"For all the verbal thrill of much of this engagement - more than enough to make it essential reading even for Terry Eagleton - there is an undeniable hubris at the heart of it. In equating human value to literary value Amis finds a way not only to place himself on the frontline of the struggle against the forces of darkness, he also comes close to dismissing half the world as morally inferior and psychologically backward without visiting any of it or hearing from any of its citizens."

This, it would appear, is another one of those cases of the reviewer putting words in the author's mouth. Nuance be damned.

Meanwhile, Ian McEwan answers questions after the successful film adaptation of his Atonement. He tells you why he favours 'realism' over 'modernism' and airs his views on blogs: "I don't read the blogs much. I don't like the tone-the rather in-your-face road-rage quality of a lot of exchange on the Internet. I don't like the threads that come out of any given piece of journalism. It seems that when people know they can't be held accountable, when they don't have eye contact, it seems to bring out a rather nasty, truculent, aggressive edge that I think slightly doesn't belong in the world of book reviewing."