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Showing posts from October, 2008

Richard Yates

In anticipation of the soon to be released film of Revolutionary Road, adapted from the debut novel of the same name by the late writer Richard Yates I thought I'd post a brief overview.

“To write so well then to be forgotten is a terrible legacy,” said Stewart O’Nan of Richard Yates in 1999.

Most critics would agree that the main reason why novelist, short-story writer and screenwriter Richard Yates fell from view was because of his distinctively clear, yet deceptively simple prose style, which he unflinchingly adhered to throughout his seven novels and two short story collections. His adherence to social realism was despite the fact that he was writing in an increasingly postmodernist period, in which his contemporaries, such as Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon, achieved far greater recognition.

Yates’ traditional social realism, sitting so comfortably in the camp espoused by Georgy Lukacs, was devoted to shining a light on the self-deceptions of his characters. It is an approa…

Back from Man Lit Fest...

I have just returned back from a couple of days up in Manchester where I gave a reading at The Northern, the festival hub, and a TV interview for Channel M (Manchester). The turnout for the reading was low, as most inevitably are unless you're a 'big name', and it was on a Monday evening in a bar not normally open on either a Monday or Tuesday!! Anyway, I went up there and kept my word but, as writer and fellow blogger, Elizabeth Baines also asks on her blog and who was also at the reading, what, really, is the point in writers going to such events and reading, especially prose writers? Does it help with sales? Mine didn't as the books that were due to arrive were curiously absent. Also, doesn't it really take away too much time from writing? Yes!

On another note I was saddened to hear, this morning, that legendary literary agent, Pat Kavanagh, other half of writer Julian Barnes, died from a brain tumour. She was 68. Pat had been for years with PFD and then over th…

The thing with a dream is...

you have to wake up, that's the thing with any dream. Even if your dream 'comes true' it changes shape, it doesn't quite turn out how you would have thought - the thing with dreams is they usually contain no struggle, no sharp edges. So too the deal with the American Dream, yes, that grand narrative that hovers over all those Americans still desperate enough to believe in it as a) American b) Dream. What constitutes this American Dream? Your own home? Why should that be a dream, why not a basic need? Owning your own business? You can start your own business right now if you so wish... c) getting filthy stinking rich and doing... what, exactly? Isn't this the real American Dream? That one day, if you work long enough, hard enough, damn it, even smart enough, that you will one day be the proud owner of ten homes, hired help, and as many Jimmy Choos as there are days lived. I hate this notion of the American Dream, not least because its origins from those early pionee…

Reading...

Well, I'm not reading The White Tiger yet, that's for sure, not enough time to investigate new novels at the moment, no, for me it's one of the classics, I'm reading Felix Holt - Radical by George Eliot - as well as plenty of non-fiction into nineteenth century factory conditions and legislation. (!) Yes, the two go hand in hand somewhat, although Eliot was in such a different league, head and shoulders above her contemporaries - contrasting sharply with Dickens' Hard Times, which Eliot criticised for lacking in psychological depth (it was Dickens who had characters like Gradgrind, whose name was supposed to say everything you needed to know about his character, he thought, what did she expect?), and Gaskell's Mary Barton, both of which represented the working-class in a terribly shallow manner, as if all members of the newly conscious working-classes were identical to each other, (with the exception of the immigrant Irish who were treated as though they were a…

The Booker Prize 2008

Winner of the Brooker Prize 2008 is Aravind Adiga and The White Tiger. I haven't read it, but had said in an earlier post how much I had wanted Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture to win, but there were noises that, whilst Barry's novel was undeniably 'profound' it was also steeped in that usually prize-prone Irish brand of dark times, that and the fact that Anne Enright won it last year! Chairman of the Judges, Michael Portillio, said:

"The judges found the decision difficult because the shortlist contained such strong candidates. In the end, The White Tiger prevailed because the judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure.

"The novel undertakes the extraordinarily difficult task of gaining and holding the reader's sympathy for a thoroughgoing villain. The book gains from dealing with pressing social issues and significant global developments with astonishing humour."

Forget Death of the Author, try assassination...

Milan Kundera has hit out at reports that that he denounced a Czech agent for western intelligence to the communist secret police in 1950, which resulted in the man, Miroslav Dvoracek, being sentenced to death, but which was reduced to 22 years. Dvoracek ended up serving 14 years hard labour. Media shy Kundera has said the accusation amounts to "the assassination of the author." No doubt it will inspire many critical papers as well as a nifty pun on Barthes 'Death of the Author'. It will be interesting to note how different the author's reception will become, also bearing in mind his advanced age.

Phillip Hensher's writing room

I love the Guardian's Writers Room series, in which they photograph a writer's room and then the writer gives an overview. Usually they say something like, 'and that desk has been in the family for... ooh, about four hundred years or so... and that bookcase was made out of....' and whilst I love looking at these rooms, like peeking through someone's front window, I can also hate them, telling myself I can hardly be a proper anything without a dedicated writing room! However, this week is the turn of Philip Hensher and he doesn't have a writer's room, but, it would seem, a writer's flat - in Devon. What I like about it is that it's just so real - the A4 pad on the arm of the tired sofa and his claim that there is no laptop, no TV, only the promise of a radio tuned into Radio 4 if he gets a certain amount done. I like it. But I would still love my own dedicated writer's room. Mind you, I don't have a bad view, the window in front of my de…

National Poetry Day...

Yay! Today is National Poetry Day! And that's the best I can come up with. The Guardian is running one of those quizzes in which they ask you to identify the photographed poet - when you hover your cursor over the picture the name appears. I still got 10 out of 13 - which is much better than any of my attempts at versification. What is surprising, or not, is the fact that the best-selling adult poetry collection of the year so far has sold... 13,000 copies, which is Pam Ayre's Surgically Enhanced. Did you also know that Seanus Heaney 'fans' are known as Heanyboppers? You do now.

And the Nobel Prize winner is...

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, it was announced today. You've never heard of him? Pah! (Shrugs shoulders). Nor have I. Here's the Wikipedia entry on him, which I can't vouch for the accuracy of. The great thing about such prizes is that they are successful in bringing them to a much wider, international audience and so I shall become acquainted with Le Clezio and see if it develops into a fully-fledged friendship. Many people on the Guardian's chattering boards are at least glad that the winner wasn't Haruki Murakami and a little miffed and surprised that it wasn't the charmingly named poet Adonis as many felt it was 'time' for a poet to win the title. Le Clezio will also walk away with £815,000.

Room for both...

Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, is reported in today's Independent as saying that libraries should offer video game facilities and plenty of chattering coffee drinkers. His comments come as Camden Libraries lifts its ban on mobile phones. There are those on the traditional side who not unreasonably think that libraries should just be about silence and books, and there are those, like Burnham, who think that libraries would be better if they became roller discos because he obviously thinks that studious equals sombre which sends out a really great message to 'the yoof of today'! Burnham's vision of libraries seems to consist of little more than kids running amok, and the sound of computer games driving all the readers away.

But! There is no reason why we can't have both - with the emphasis of course remaining with the essential studious nature of the library. Let's face it, most people visit the library to refer to information, to study, or ju…

How to box a Dame...

Dame Margaret Drabble, author of seventeen novels and various other works spanning forty plus years, has spoken out at her feelings that her publisher (Penguin) needs to 're-package or re-brand' her in a way that will make her more friendly to the masses, instead of continuing to let her works stand in their own right. All I can think is that she's lucky to have escaped this re-packaging as celebrity-lite thus far.

Chronicler of Death...

This is a very interesting, poignant piece on Guardian's CiF section from Anne Wroe, who writes the obituaries for The Economist. Wroe claims that a good obituary writer requires a degree of detachment yet this piece makes clear the emotions inherent in such an occupation and often, like life, death brings up the paradoxes of personalities. She also makes many other pertinent points, not least her assertion that our novels don't feature sentimental death-bed scenes, something I too looked at when I claimed that the death scenes in Victorian novels were wholly unrealistic on The Guardian's book section a while ago. Silences for the (famous and newsworthy) recently departed at public events are de rigeur and, she says, surely signs that as a nation we are more accepting of death. A healthy sign only when it doesn't tip over, as it did in Victorian times, into the maudlin and the marketed - god knows how many Victorian death merchants made their millions that way.

Culture of fear?

Gibson Square, the publisher due to release Sherry Jone's debut novel, The Jewel of Medina, about Aisha, one of the prophet Mohammed's wives, has delayed publication, and may not publish at all. Sherry Jones, the author, who lives in Washington State, USA, has said that 'we' mustn't give into fear and be prepared to defend the principle of free speech. American publication of the book has been rushed forward to this coming Monday, which Jones says will finally give people the chance to judge the book for themselves and see that it isn't, as academic Denise Spellberg, to whom it was sent for a cover blurb or encomium claims, pornographic. It was Spellberg's comments that seem to have sparked the furore. But why those responsible for the firebomb threats are so reliant upon hearsay certainly speaks volumes about the levels of intelligence involved. Sherry Jones is in an unenviable position but is confident that Spellberg's comments will finally be ju…

Nobel Prize date...

The Nobel Prize for Literature is to be announced on 9th October, Reuters has today reported. The Booker Prize will be announced just five days later, on 14th.

The Drunkard's Walk

Are you one of those people who believes that if you have an ounce of talent and put in enough hard work that you are bound to succeed, as though there is someone 'up there' looking down seeing that such and such has put x amount in and somehow 'deserves' it or it's 'their turn'? Cue The Drunkard's Walk - How Randomness Rules our Lives, a new book by Leonard Mlodinow. Another to add to my collapsing 'To Read' pile and yet another book that fuels my increasing cynicism.

Guessing at the Nobel Lit Prize...

Reuters is speculating on the list of possible Nobel Prize for Literature winners for this year with the help of Michael Chabon. The list includes Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates (the latter is, to my mind, a most unusual choice), but the permanent secretary of the Prize was earlier this week reported as saying that American writers are far too insular to win such a prize and that is why it has been awarded to far more European writers over the past eleven or so years. Many are saying that it is now time, with the past eleven years going to prose writers, that it went to a poet.

The list of potentials also includes the brilliant J.G. Ballard (although if he is awarded it, may only attract speculation that it is because he is dying), Haruki Murakami, whose The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is a total masterpiece yet whose most recent works have left me feeling quite cold, especially Kafka on the Shore which felt as though it was skating around on the surface - too cold and far too detached.…