Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It Ain't Carved in Stone

Ms Baroque writes belatedly - and interestingly - about Tess Gallagher's intention to re-issue Raymond Carver's stories with Gordon Lish's editorial changes reversed.

Me too - belatedly, I mean. I think for us authors that news last week was too close to home for simple feelings and ready opinions. Well, it was for me at any rate, as I've done that very thing myself: reissued a book with the structure I'd been forced to abandon reinstated.

Editors, oh editors. (I can say these things, having been one.) Such power do they wield; with such delicacy and respect for an author's intentions do some wield it, with such disregard for this last do others wade in and consequently, in effect, substitute their own rewrites.

Like Gallagher, I'm pretty sure I made the right decision in undoing the editing - well, 99% sure anyway. But there's always that 1%, and all this speculation that the prose style for which Carver is so loved is not the one he intended, it's enough to make an author's blood run cold.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Responsibility to Understand the Nature of Fiction

Some things have to keep being said (as I keep saying). I was as shocked as today's letter writers to the Guardian by the misunderstandings about the nature of fiction displayed thus in Saturday's leader about Monica Ali's Brick Lane:
The artists are responding to a public hunger for some insights into British-Bangladeshi life. They are providing reportage from an under-reported community. There is a price for that, and it comes in treating one's subjects with greater care than if they were made up.
As I have said before in greater detail with reference to this novel, the idea that the subject of a novel is ever 'not made up' would be laughable if it were not coming from the pens and laptops of supposed intellectuals and literary experts.

As I said then: once real people and real places and real events get forged in the fire of fiction, you can't tell what's left of the reality, it simply doesn't relate to 'reality' in the way Greer, and the Muslim protestors, assume. ...Novels can't be divided up into the reality bits and the imagination bits, it's just one big meld, and the only real 'reality' of a novel is the author's psyche, and if it's a good or great novel it will have the reality of emotional truth.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mark Lawson Pins It Down

Mark Lawson calls philistine the assumption which has emerged in response to Anne Enright's Booker win, the assumption that major arts prizes should reward works which 'excite the mass market' rather than those which have failed to sell.

He reminds us that such prizes exist to 'promote the kind of work which audiences are reluctant to find otherwise', and that the Booker 'is a marketing device for fiction that doesn't get an advertising budget.'

He points out too that many writers who are now bestsellers only gained attention through being shortlisted for the Booker, and that 'almost all art now considered significant could have been condemned for being "out of touch" with the bourgeoisie of the period.'

And this is the cause of such a mistaken assumption, he says:
'What has happened is that the spread of market economics across most political shadings has encouraged scepticism about cultural subsidy, whether it's the BBC licence fee or Arts Council grants. The result is that works of art are judged by the weight of public interest.'

Friday, October 19, 2007

Where's Your Sense of Humour, Boys?

Oh, and that's the other thing I should have said about The Gathering: it might make you weep, but it's also FUNNY!!! The thing which characterizes this book for me is its black humour, yet it's being almost universally called 'depressing'.

Now that, as Ms Baroque says, is depressing...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

So Death Isn't Daring Enough?

How interesting that Sam Jordison can say that Anne Enright is a conservative choice for the Booker. Well I haven't read Darkmans or Animal's People, one of which he says should have won instead, but they must be pretty brilliant linguistically to top Enright, in my opinion.

I'm not surprised by one of Jordison's objections: that Enright sticks to 'familiar themes'. It's a complaint which is even more familiar than those themes, and is a troubling approach to literature. We can know the theme of a novel without reading it - from the blurb, from what people tell us about it etc. It's what a writer does with that theme which is important - via structure, for instance, and above all language. Language can make us look at a familiar theme in a new way, can disrupt our preconceptions and give us new insights about a subject we may have assumed we've got taped. And this is what I think Anne Enright does here, with the familiar theme of the Irish family.

Not Jordison, though: this is his other objection (as well as that of some of his commenters): he says that The Gathering is 'skilful, but never really daring writing'.

I beg to differ. I have to say that I have been pretty shocked by the readiness of people to comment on the Guardian books blog on things they haven't actually read (as they do in this thread) - a contemporary practice which is indeed linked, I think, to the readiness to dismiss a book for its theme. However, in spite of this modern reluctance to bother with the fuddy-duddiness of scrutiny, I crave your indulgence in asking you to look at this part of a section from The Gathering, quoted in the Guardian today:
My mother had 12 children and - as she told me one hard day - seven miscarriages. The holes in her head are not her fault. But even so, I have never forgive her any of it. I just can't.

I have not forgiven her for my sister Margaret who we called Midge, until she died, aged forty-two, from pancreatic cancer.

I do not forgive her my beautiful, drifting sister Bea. I do not forgive her my first brother Ernest, who was priest in Peru, until he became a lapsed priest in Peru.

I do not forgive her my brother Stevie, who is a little angel in heaven. I do not forgive her the whole tedious litany of Midge, Bea, Ernest, Stevie, Ita, Mossie, Liam, Veronica, Kitty, Alice and the twins, Ivor and Jem.
This is subtle, complex writing, a palimpsest of voices which is not just 'clever' as Jordison writes, but passionate yet controlled. Note the way that Enright incorporates the family consensus language into the individual voice of the narrator: the ironic quoting of the family's phrase for Stevie: 'a little angel in heaven', and this: 'Margaret, who we called Midge, until she died,' conjuring in a stroke the terrible time when the family stopped referring to Margaret as Midge and telling a whole story of how death altered the family's attitude to her and wiped an aspect of her personality. It is the tension between the irony of the narrator's voice and the scenarios she thus conjures which belie her avowed lack of forgiveness (for these were after all the mother's tragedies) and which give this passage real emotional power. And those repetitions: they are, after all, daring, and their rhythm adds to the emotional impact. (Another stunning irony: in criticising her family's 'litany' the narrator creates a litany of her own and subtly demonstrates her own implication in their psychology.)

This is not just a passage about an Irish family. It's a passage about the terrible power of love and its close relationship to hatred. And if you think you don't need to read about that because, yawn, it's been done, then god help you.

Last week Anne Enright read this very passage to a packed room in Manchester's Whitworth Gallery. The audience was utterly spellbound, and I know I wasn't the only one weeping. As far as I'm concerned, if the words were simply clever, I wouldn't be remembering them as vividly as I have since.

Monday, October 15, 2007

You Don't Have to be Trash to be Trashed

All writers with unplaced novels would be crowing with vindication if they weren't looking for the knives to slit their wrists after reading Carole Cadwalladr's Observer account of her visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair.

One gloomy publisher-turned-agent tells her:
'If you're not in a three-for-two or Richard & Judy, forget it ... Borders and Tesco have squeezed [publishers] so much that they've become completely risk-averse. It really is down to what sales and marketing think these days. And, frankly, there's no point selling to a publisher if they can't get enthusiastic about it - you might as well chuck it in the bin.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

To Speak or Not of Gender Bias

While the dominant literary stags have been busy clashing antlers, female writers have been re-emerging from the shadowy trees. Apart from the the long-overdue recognition of Doris Lessing, and in the wake of Jonathan Coe's tribute to the reclaimed Virago novelists, Joyce Johnson, fifties girlfriend of the more famous Jack (Kerouac), looks about to be recognized at last as a literary figure in her own right.

Doris Lessing is famously annoyed by any discussion of writers in terms of their gender, and on the highest literary level she is of course right to be. Trouble is, though, if we don't point out gender biases in our perception of fiction, we risk perpetuating them. As the Guardian's Laura Barton points out: Johnson's work, 'like that of many female artists, has been ushered to the sidelines of the beat movement.'

She goes on:
...unlike On the Road and the rest of Kerouac's canon, unlike the work of Ginsberg and Burroughs and Gary Snyder, Johnson's novels are now out of print - a situation that seems strangely to echo a passage from Minor Characters in which she recalls herself at 22, sitting black-clad in a beatnik bar in Greenwich Village: "The table in the exact centre of the universe, that midnight place where so much is converging, the only place in America that's alive ... As a female, she's not quite a part of this convergence. A fact she ignores, sitting by in her excitement as the voices of the men, always the men, passionately rise and fall."

Narrative Choices

Over the past weeks I've been taking part in a fiction experiment which raises questions about authorship and narrative.

In the summer I was asked by Manchester Literature Festival if I would write an interactive blog story in the run-up to the festival. They had conceived it partly as a way of involving the public in the festival beforehand and partly as a narrative experiment in its own right. Well, my instant reaction was negative: the idea of literature as just a game or pure entertainment has always been anathema to me, and as a writer I've always been pretty possessive - maybe precious! - about my individual vision. But the more I thought about it, and the issues it raised, the more intrigued I became.

These were the terms of the commission: the story would appear once a week for six weeks and should be in the form of a blog. Each episode would be around only 500 words (I never once got it down to that) and the whole should thus be around 3,000 words. It should be set in Manchester and take place in real time - as blogs do - and therefore respond to events happening in the real world, both locally and internationally. It should be light in tone and, importantly, should be a comment on contemporary urban life. The actual story was entirely up to me. Most important of all, the story would be interactive: at the end of each instalment readers would be able to vote on three choices to affect events in the following instalment. It was made clear that there was no expectation - quite the opposite - that a conventionally integral story could emerge from this process. As the writer I secretly hoped I'd manage to make this happen, but knew it would be difficult: I tend to think of good short stories as integral by nature, seamless as eggs, but this would be fragmented by serialization as well as voters' input, and drawn out over six weeks of real time with five week-long longueurs, or at least real-time pauses, in the action. And why, come to think of it, should the idea of the integral short story not be challenged? In any event, this was never meant to be a conventionally-shaped and neat short story. It was to be something different, and an experiment (and also a bit of fun).

So what would I write? Every story for me is a mystery when I embark on it - I write to find things out, and the writing process is in fact like finding your way through a wood, the end hidden by the trees, the path towards it never clear and choices constantly having to be made. I began thus to see that this project was going to be the writing process writ large, and so I decided to start with an actual mystery - a mystery caller leaving an unclear message while the narrator/blogger was out - as well as a soap-opera-rich cast of characters to allow the narrative to develop in numerous alternative ways.

Well, then I panicked. Mind you, I always panic when I'm writing. But here was my panic writ large. What if I couldn't resolve the mystery? Don't mystery writers always know the end; isn't that how they plant clues? (And if I couldn't, I couldn't just scrap the story as I can when I'm writing privately.) And also, what if people thought therefore that I did know the ending, and that therefore the voters were being cheated? And did I? I was worried about having too little control, but also I was worried about having too much control. Naturally enough, two or three possible resolutions had occurred to me, so in a way I did know it, didn't I? But then again, what if, because of voters' choices, none of those endings, or any other I could think of, was possible after all?

Catherine Heffernan (who calls it a novel, and thus presumably had expectations of novelistic characteristics I could never achieve within the parameters) finds that the ending I did come up with was tacked on, unprepared for. Others however said that when they read the ending they thought 'Of course!' and have suggested that I had had it in mind all along. The fact is that both views are to some extent right.

When, in the first episode, I had the narrator comment that her dad always says the family is 'stamped English like a stick of rock through and through', that did reverberate for me very strongly - prejudice (including racism) is one of my biggest preoccupations in writing - and I knew right away that it could be a core issue in the story, but for this particular exercise the options had to remain open: I couldn't and shouldn't develop it at the expense of other options. In the event, it became the clincher, and I now find it hard, like others, to think that there had ever been any real choice, but that the internal logic of the story - that seed which had been planted at the beginning - had led towards it all along. Last night, at a MLF reading, Cathy Bolton, who commissioned this project, asked readers Maggie O'Farrell and Anne Enright (presumably with this project in mind) whether they planned out their novels or wrote 'blind', and Anne Enright described the latter process beautifully: she said that she wrote to find things out, but at the end she always finds she knew it all along; it's just that she didn't know what she knew. Normally, when you find it out you go back and adjust the beginning: you make more resonant those 'seeds' so that the ending becomes even more fitting and inevitable, however surprising, and you wipe all those false trails - as, clearly, I couldn't do here.

But what about the choices the readers made? How far did they affect the story and its internal logic? In the beginning I was cautious and offered what I thought of as superficial choices, a venue and a choice of companion, but in fact they were far more radically influential than I had imagined. For the second episode, the voters could choose whether the narrator went to meet her mystery caller in Manchester's slick wild clubland, a rumbustious working-class Salford pub or Central Library - each with very different possibilities as to the identity of the mystery caller. I was pretty sure they'd choose one of the first two - the narrative possibilities seemed so much richer and human - and started to imagine those scenarios, and then to my shock the voters chose Central Library. I found myself stumped. I had to go to the library and sit there, just to get inspired. And I did! I discovered the strange whispering-gallery echo effect which gave me ideas for both the plot and theme. And I talked to the librarian from the family history research department - which in the end led to the resolution of the mystery. What is interesting about this is that the choice I was least likely to make myself turned out to be narratively useful and, as all writers know really, in spite of the fact that stories have an internal logic, there are nevertheless many directions a story can go - leading to different meanings, but equally valid on a wider level.

Later, however, when I might have appeared to be offering a far more radical choice - a choice of action for the protagonist - voters plumped for the compromise option, which however was also the option with the greatest dramatic conflict and had the function of complicating the plot. So it's hard not to feel now that, in one way or another, there was in this instance no real choice, that the logic of the path the story had already taken was taking over both me and the voters.

None of this, in my view, is much different really from the usual process of writing fiction: sometimes you get stuck, sometimes the story takes over; often if you are stuck real life suddenly signals where you should go next. As far as I'm concerned writing is a weird mixture of intuition and logic, the conscious and the unconscious, of inspiration and a muscular wrestling with plot and facts, and sometimes a magical-seeming serendipity. When in episode 2 I had two characters arguing whether peaceful demonstrations are politically mistaken I had no idea that the events in Burma were about to occur, and I had people ringing up to say they didn't know I was psychic.

And that's how writing feels sometimes to me, like mediumship, like a listening and receiving. It's often only afterwards that you can see the pattern, and then work on a piece more logically and knock it into better shape. The fact that I couldn't do this last on this occasion means that there are of course loose ends, untied threads, and undeveloped elements. However, the fact that these things are still there on show is, I think, something of a demonstration of the narrative process.

Although I have to say this: I thought that by the time I had completed it I would be much clearer about the narrative process. In fact I'm now surer than ever that the narrative process is a (happily) mysterious thing.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Manchester Blog Awards

Last night's Manchester Blog Awards was a great event. This blog didn't win, but I could hardly expect it to with the competition it was up against, including the fabulous Mancubist, winner of our category, Arts and Culture. It was an amazing privilege to be shortlisted though, and I'd like to say a big thank you to those who nominated this blog.

(More colourful details on my author blog).

The other winners were as follows:

Best Personal Blog: Single Mother on the Verge

Best New Blog: Rent Girl

Best Political Blog: Politaholic

Best Writing on a Blog: Day of Moustaches

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Whose Territory?

Interesting. Jonathan Coe tells in the Guardian Saturday Review of the 'love affair' with Virago Modern Classics which he began as a student when his peers were immersing themselves in the male 'Granta generation' of Swift, Amis, Barnes and McEwan.

He writes of the revelation to him of Dorothy Richardson's subversive rhythmic prose which undercut the male narrative procedures of 'conflicts and linear progressions and sudden climaxes', and of May Sinclair's very different but equally singular novelistic power to select, pare down and omit. He tells us how they influenced him as a writer:
Before long, the Virago novels would unseat some of my deepest assumptions as a reader, and also alter my course as a writer.
He pays tribute (as I did recently) to those wonderful Virago covers. The sequence of Gwen John paintings of women reading on the Virago editions of Richardson's novels 'reflects', he says, 'upon the acts of reading and writing as essential ways for women to memorialise their experience, and insists, moreover, that a woman's experience has as much value as a man's'. Coe suggests that it is the Virago Modern Classics which have been largely instrumental in seeing off the kind of chauvinistic critical reception which women authors like Rosamond Lehmann once suffered.

Interestingly, however, he wonders if the gender bias which Virago challenged really has disappeared altogether. It might seem to have: male writers like Ian McEwan are no longer 'afraid to voyage in an "exclusively emotional and sexual sea" ', and 'Most of the new writers who have broken through to critical acclaim and big readerships in recent years have been women ... and these are, for the most part, writing big, historically and politically engaged novels.

Yet Coe is not convinced: I can't help thinking that some of that bias, subtle and unspoken, remains, he says, and points to the still male-dominated Booker shortlist as indication that the literary establishment has yet to learn to value women's writing.

I think Coe's instinct is right, love him, but he's not looking in quite the right place to prove it. He shouldn't just be looking at the literary establishment but at women writers themselves who have internalized the prejudices. While men like McEwan have taken up the challenge the women's presses offered, many young women writers have shied away from the territory that would brand them 'merely' women writers. I don't suppose I'm the only ex-women's press writer who read the disparaging and self-distancing reference to 'dusty Women's Press novels' in Zadie Smith's White Teeth and thought 'Ouch!'

Me, it warms the cockles of my heart that a man should be championing Virago and their writers in this way, but, like those contemporary women writers, I can't help wondering if this article, even now, would be seen as quite so authoritative had it been written by a woman.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Review: The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs by Rebecca Gillieron and Catheryn Kilgarriff

I have to say I'm a bit puzzled as to why Marion Boyars offered me this book for review. Its single brief and slightly damning reference to this blog appears early on in a discussion of the online persona: ...some might be put off ... by the self-proclaimed 'Bookslut' or 'Fiction Bitch'. Since this is not a blog the authors recommend it would seem they share this view, and what seems to emerge from this book is a chariness of the kind of critical irreverence and impartiality which this blog is intended to stand for.

But since the Bitch does indeed always endeavour to be impartial, she will begin by agreeing with A Stevens that it has to be a good thing that lit-blogging has become such a force that publishers - as these authors are - are embracing it. It's just... well, you know the Bitch, bitchily suspicious as ever: she can't help seeing those little flies in the ointment. Like the spirit and the motives with which they are embracing it.

Of course it's only sensible for publishers to recognize the explosion of blog book-reviewing as a whole new potential marketing opportunity - it is after all their job to look out for marketing opportunities - and I should say right away that there is a genuine air of enthusiasm about this book which goes way beyond such simple pragmatism: you feel that the authors really do like the blogs they recommend.


Let's look again at some of that early chapter in which the authors discuss 'the online persona' and the names of blogs/bloggers.
Ms Baroque in Hackney suggests a perky, fun and modern if slightly flamboyant type of girl... it's clear she has a positive outlook on life and this welcome air of enthusiasm pervades all the postings on her blog ... Bookfox is another sassy-sounding young woman whose wit and cunning might just match up to her name.
Well, me, if I hadn't immediately detected in that title, 'Baroque in Hackney', a certain oxymoronic irony, I should never have clicked on and discovered precisely what I had hoped for: an incisive and sometimes politically angry mind amidst her love of beautiful things and her extremely fine prose - an aspect of her blog which I love most and find the authors skip over. And here they are on others:
There are some names which just don't sound appealing... Bibliophile Bullpen 'The Whiff of Old Books With Your Coffee' does little for the appetite. Calling yourself Checkhov's Mistress online doesn't exactly set a person up as a barrel of fun...
That phrase 'barrel of fun' and the earlier, describing Ms Baroque's 'welcome air of enthusiasm', are key, I think. For what publisher wouldn't want their books discussed on an instantly attractive and amenable platform? And this is how the book concludes: There has to be a way of encouraging the reading of books which is more democratic, fair and not full of intellectual concerns that put people off (My bolds). Democracy and fairness are set up in opposition to the intellectual - thus unwittingly endorsing the view of those critical of litblogs - and it is not intellectual engagement for which blogs should be valued, it seems.

The authors aren't unaware that bloggers are suspicious of publishers trying to co-opt their independent enthusiasm for marketing purposes: they quote a post by Susan Hill in which she wags her finger at any publishers getting hold of that notion. But in the very same post Susan says this: If we like [books] we say so. If we don't we ignore them, which in itself is amenable to publishers. Who when trying to sell books wouldn't embrace a platform where you could be sure not to get a negative press? And there's a chapter on publisher-led virtual book tours (around blogs) for which the authors show undiluted enthusiasm.

Well, I guess I've bucked the trend, then, by being critical here, and I may as well add a few more caveats. This book has clearly been brought out quickly, which may account for the typos and a more than occasional lack of clarity resulting from the chatty tone. This casual tone is intended I suspect to reflect the flavour of blogs, but if so does them no favours with such nonsensical sentences as this: It's difficult to imagine readers in their thousands rushing for the next instalment of Today in Literature or Reading Experience; though I'm sure they do.

The book may have been rushed out, but it's inevitably out of date already: the web moves faster than printing. Struggling Author, for instance, is listed as a bookseller blogger, but it's a long time now since Marie Phillips was a bookseller, and a while since her blog went private and became unavailable to the public. There's no index, which is a real irritation - if there's one thing a book can do better than a blog it's provide an index. Which leads me to my most fundamental question: what or who is this book for? Isn't the best place to find out about blogs the, er... blogosphere? The authors say that they want to capture a moment in blogging, that the book is a 'book blog keepsake.' But then it's only their moment: disarmingly they admit that the book blog sites that we refer to throughout this book are often written by people we know in the trade and have met at the many social events we attend.

Well, if we're going to bloggingly admit our interests, I'd just like to say I'm really tickled that they have chosen a cover showing three books by Adele Geras, because she happens to be my friend!!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Taking the P***

Today in the Guardian (can't find a link, I'm afraid), sly comment on the issue of fact versus fiction from my favourite literary satirist, John Crace. Here's an extract from his Digested Read of Robert Harris's The Ghost with its ghostwriter narrator:
Lang bounced into the room, closely followed by Amelia Bly, the PA who had nothing at all to do with Anji Hunter. It was immediately obvious they were having an affair. I made a mental note not to include any references to it in the book, though I couldn't resist a private chuckle at how pissed off the Blairs and Hunter would be when they read this roman a clef.
The great thing about Crace for me, though, is the way he pinpoints those authorial wobbles:
Ruth slipped between the sheets next to me. ...we kissed passionately. /'We shouldn't have done that,' I said next morning, 'because it's done nothing to further the plot.'
He can sniff them out in even the greatest writers, when surprisingly few critics can.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Different Kinds of Truth

The contentious issue of memoir versus autobiographical fiction has broken out over the papers like a rash in the past days. Last week Robert Harris commented that the reception to his recent novel The Ghost - which people have read as a roman a clef, taking it as factual truth and his characters as real-life political figures - means that 'you can't get the book airborne ... as a work of fiction.'

Saturday's Guardian review carries two more relevant articles. Blake Morrison writes of the experience of having his memoir, When Did You Last See Your Father? made into a film, and makes clear that the process has involved a certain fictionalization:
The real-life basis for [a certain] scene was a modest poetry award I'd won in 1985... The dowdy poetry gathering ... was sumptuously transformed: it looked as though I was collecting the Booker prize. For my wife Kathy, watching from the next table while Gina McKee played her, it was a stiff test of her capacity to suspend disbelief: in the film, she asks to be mentioned in Colin/Blake's acceptance speech, a request the real her would never make... Blake throws a wobbly when his father refuses to say "Well done". In reality, my father was effusive in praise of whatever small successes I enjoyed.
It's hard to know how Morrison must truly feel about these changes, because naturally enough he will be both emotionally and pragmatically caught up in the need to promote this film, and it's no surprise that he endorses them:
In terms of the film, though, there was a logic to these changes from the life. ...the film's narrative arc demands tension between father and son at that point.
This, however, expresses a crucial point, and shows why it is a mistake to read even memoirs - which also, as James Frey has pointed out, require narrative arcs - as totally factual rather than emotional truth.

The second Guardian article is an examination by Christopher Tayler of the relationship between Philip Roth and his alter ego, the Jewish author Nathan Zuckerman of his novels. Tayler makes some attempt to tease out the parallels and differences between the life of Zuckerman and Roth's own, but only to show ultimately the mistaken enterprise of doing so, ending with Roth's own take on the matter:
"To label books like mine 'autobiographical' or 'confessional'", he once told the French writer Alain Finkielkraut, "is not only to falsify their suppositional nature but, if I may say so, to slight whatever artfulness leads some readers to think that they must be autobiographical." In other words, he's happy to exploit confusion between Roth and Zuckerman for illusionistic purposes, but equally keen to pour cold water on readers drawn by a supposed voyeuristic appeal. As he told Hermione Lee in 1984: "Making fake biography, false history, concocting a half-imaginary existence out of the actual drama of my life is my life. There has to be some pleasure in this job, and that's it. To go around in disguise. To act a character. To pretend. The sly and cunning masquerade."
I should confess that I've only recently begun reading Roth, but for these playful yet serious concerns he's already one of my favourite writers.