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Prufrock's Page

Sometimes I, too, sought expression. I know now that my gods grant me no more than allusion or mention - Jorge Luis Borges

Updated: 2018-01-30T19:56:52.966+05:30


Why One Hasn't Written A Novel


John Updike's goal is 1,000 words a day. Richard Ford awakes at six so he can begin as soon as possible. Philip Roth follows Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Wolfe in preferring to stand for hours on end. Oh, the discipline and routine needed to be a writer.

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."

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."

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?

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."

Teaching Skill, Not Talent


"...when it comes to teaching creative writing, good intentions are nothing but paving material for the route to dull-prose hell." Nathan Whitlock adds to the debate over whether creative writing classes are a good thing, in his review of Penguin Canada's Writer's Gym, yet another one of those books aimed at Those Who Want To Write. (Those of you who are suckers for such books may find this recent report interesting: How do you organize and structure the narrative path of the work you wish to write?)

2008, Booked


"The aura of a book I have yet to read, with its promise of rapture, surprise and edification, might be even more powerful than the aura of a book I have read, enjoyed and duly forgotten." A book editor's honest new year resolutions.

'Where's Malcolm Lowry? I Hear You Cry. Graham Swift? Zadie Smith? Byatt But No Drabble?'


Erica Wagner anticipates criticism and debate in introducing The Times' list of the Greatest British Writers Since 1945. (No Peter Ackroyd, no P.D. James, no William Trevor -- but you'll find J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkein.)

Taking His Time


He's written just two books in the last 15 years, once entertained notions of becoming a Trappist monk and returned to the US recently after years in Berlin. The Telegraph profiles the incomparable Jeffrey Eugenides: "...I think the only thing I've ever had on my side, more than a flashing ability or a talent or anything like that, was a determination not to quit. Tenaciousness is what got me to publish a couple of books, I think."

Audacious Highwire Act


"...the most fundamental character trait of short stories, other than their shortness, would seem to be audacity. More than even the sestina, short stories are the highwire act of literature, the man keeping all those pretty plates up and spinning on skinny sticks."

- An extract from Richard Ford's introduction to The New Granta Book of the American Short Story. (What still rankles is that there isn't a single story by Malamud in the volume.)

New Voices


An earlier report on debutant authors in The Guardian, that one overlooked, is fascinating in that it makes those rarefied creatures come across as so...regular. Nick Harkaway (The Gone Away World), son of John Le Carre, says anxiously, "Can you make me look cool? In family photographs, I'm always standing at the edge looking like the country cousin." Mohammed Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) reveals, "My son would try to read bits over my shoulder while I was writing the book. I think he got bored because it took me two years. He would say, 'Are you still writing that mangoes book?' " Joe Dunthorne (Submarine) says, "Saying I'm a writer is one of the most uncomfortable things. You can't help but feel you are showing off." And, in a confession sure to gladden the hearts of Mumbai's commuters with literary aspirations, Lucie Whitehouse (The House at Midnight) says that her novel was written over six years, mainly on the train to work. Come on now, all of you who're reading this: you can do it, too.

Plus Ca Change...


Those in the book business look back on 2007 as yet another year of uncertainty and possible decline, mediated by hyped new titles and technology, finds Scott Timberg: "'s hard to reconcile the unease people feel about the business with the excitement they feel about the books themselves."

Striking Novelists


The Hollywood screenwriters' protest shows no signs of abating. And now, literary lions are taking a leaf from their book: " 'I want more than two free copies of the literary journal where I have been published," said a woman who would only give the name 'Virginia Woolf.' As she spoke she clutched copies of the literary journals White Chocolate and the University of Southern Kansas-North Campus Review. 'I would also like to demand fifteen cents per page.' 'It's just pennies,' said Leo Tolstoy. 'But it adds up.' " Read all about it.

100 Grantas


How did a "tiny Cambridge journal rise to conquer the literary world"? On the occasion of Granta's 100th issue, Simon Garfield tells us.

More Than Cricket


Shortly after being elected, Kevin Rudd announced two new $100,000 prizes for Australian writing: a Prime Minister's Literary Prize for fiction and one for nonfiction.Jane Gleeson-White applauds, and calls for a revitalisation of Oz literature: "...far from enshrining the language of competition, economic rationalism and sport that has ruled the national narrative of the past 11 years, our literature tells very different stories. It tells us that we are a nation of many voices. It speaks for the marginalised and the dispossessed and addresses a vast range of subjects, from the political to the personal, from the nature of our social fabric to our place in the world."



Not just Kurt Vonnegut, Grace Paley and Norman Mailer, but also Nathan Zuckerman, Harry Potter and...the hardback. Sarah Crown looks at literary losses of 2007. (But there's a lot to look forward to in 2008, including work from Bernhard Schlink, Zoe Heller, Hanif Kureishi and -- hey, he's back -- Manil Suri.)

A Tampered Destiny


"Our father told us on a harmattan morning. Outside the dining room window, the wind was cold and dry, the whistling pine was swaying, a cock was chasing a squawking hen, the red dust was rising and our mother’s spirit was dancing in its whirls. My brother Chuma and I, lips smeared with Vaseline, were playing scrabble at the dining table and listening to Celestine Ukwu on the stereo. " A new short story by Chimamanda Adichie. (Read it quick, the online version is available only till January 10.)

The Tour's Over


Websites. Videos. Podcasts. What a relief for self-effacing authors that there's now an alternative to facing the book-buying public.

Which Authors Said The Following In 2007?


“When people pick up a book they may want something happy that will cheer them up. In that case they shouldn’t really pick up my book. It’s the intellectual equivalent of a Hollywood weepie.”

"Well, I’ve never thought about this before, but now that you ask it occurs to me I don’t have much interest in whether my books work or not.”

(On the tense Booker banquet) “Would Kafka have put up with this? Would Henry James?”

“Oh, Christ. You can’t go on getting excited every year about this. I’ve won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one.”


Literary Festivities


So where are Gore Vidal, Karen Roberts, Vikram Seth, Alexander McCall Smith, Shyam Selvadurai, William Dalrymple, Shobhaa De and Carl Muller, among many others, going to congregate this January? In Galle, that's where.

Prophet Or Poseur?


One supposes it had to happen. After years of universal rapture over his literary achievements comes this question about Orhan Pamuk: "...this 'caught between East and West' business - how much more literary mileage does he plan to get out of it?"