Thursday, June 29, 2006

Great but not so Famous

The bitch hasn't been feeling very literary lately. Sometimes you just want a life, don't you?

But then I went on holiday and read a brilliant book. It's one which apparently I should have read before, but then its author has suffered from the great blinding light coming out of John Updike's arse. It's 'Revolutionary Road' by Richard Yates who has never until now impinged on my consciousness.

For anyone as ignorant as me, it's a novel set in the small-town America of the fifities and deals with the dissatisfactions of a young suburban couple. So far, so Updikish, and at first I read it as though it was by Updike. 'Good God!' I kept shrieking to The Partner of the Bitch, who was trying to sleep in the sun beside me. 'Listen to this: every woman this young guy comes across is characterised merely as either pretty or ugly! And he keeps feeling sorry for himself because his wife has got a little too heavy in the hips and thighs now that she's had two kids! And they have a row because she's upset about something that's happened to her and he can't stand her moaning, he's really sorry that he's got such an uptight bitch of a wife, so mad he raises his fist, but then really proud of himself for bringing it down on the top of the car instead and then of course really sorry for himself all over again because of his throbbing hand!'

'Disgusting!' I cried, and threw the book down in the grass. But something made me pick it up again, and I as read on the viewpoint shifted to that of another character, and it dawned on me, duh!: this book is satirical (and way ahead of its time), beautifully, coolly yet humanely satirical, and leaving John Updike, in my opinion, totally eclipsed.

Go read, though you probably already have.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Zadie and the Characters

Well, I've been away and while I was Zadie Smith won the Orange prize. How can I not be glad, I love Zadie, I love her linguistic talent and empathy, I love her take on contemporary society and the way she can pin it down via its linguistic codes, I love her human understanding. But something makes me sad, and it's that Ali Smith or Hilary Mantel or Nicole Krauss didn't win.

Maybe it's that I can't stand the idea of competition, the idea that one kind of writing should be pitted against another (it takes all sorts, after all) , but it's also that I'm a champion of the kind of interiority that these other writers practise, and which I don't think Zadie quite achieves. Zadie is so good at describing people and replicating the way they speak that you'd think they were there in front of you, but there's something dramatic, rather than novelistic, in the way she does it. She doesn't quite inhabit their mentality, however brilliantly she pins it down. However empathic she is there's always an ironic detachment which is akin to that of the playwright. Ali Smith and Sarah Waters eschew that coolness of irony and inhabit utterly the psyches of their characters, which to me is the bravest novelistic step of all.

Thursday, June 01, 2006