May 14, 2012

The Future of the Novel according to AWRF

I went to hear Jeffrey Eugenides and Emily Perkins in "a wide-ranging conversation on the great novels and the future of the form".
As it turned out, we didn’t really hear about The Future of the Novel, or not in any capital letter way. It was a much lighter sort of occasion, a French macaron, it occurred to me, the two clever novelists-cum-creative writing profs as the two perfectly done hemispheres, just nutty enough, not too puffed up or too dry, and Jolisa Gracewood’s smooth, assured and berry-liscious questioning as the ganache in the middle.

“In The Marriage Plot, the old, reactionary professor thinks that now that religious and other taboos against ending marriage have fallen, and the “marriage plot" is therefore dead and gone, the novel is dead. Is that why you set the novel in the past?”

“I don’t consider the 1980s the past. I remember it as quite a vibrant time” Jeffrey Eugenides, born in 1960, deadpanned, setting the tone he seemed to find most matter-of-course.

Emily thoughtfully pointed out that people can still break the social contract and novels can explore that, citing The Slap and We need to talk about Kevin.

With or without marriage, Jeffrey rejoined, “Every story I write has desire at its centre.”

Emily seconded this, quoting fellow-festival guest Geoff Dyer, from his contribution to The Guardian’s “10 rules of writing” series: “Have regrets because on the page they flare into desire”. (She also said “And of course most authors put as their last point ‘Ignore everything I’ve just said’”. I couldn’t believe Geoff Dyer would have been one of these, and I actually went and looked it up just now, and can report that his last point was “Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else".)

Both novelists agreed that “a certain amount of comicity in your book allows you to stare better at the tragedy”, as Eugenides put it.

Possibly unintentionally (she is very clever, but perhaps too lovely a person to be so diabolical), Emily Perkins then provided the set up for that certain comic moment of the evening, one it would have been fun to see described by Mark Twain or maybe, in more contemporary times, Tom Wolfe.

She quoted a character in her new book who says, “You do see women going about their lives without a book, but how do they do it?”

Somewhere in the rows behind me an eager literateur could not repress an approving “Yeah!”

Yeah! Say it loud, Writers Festival core customer base!

The novel is not dead, despite critics (could someone tell me what a "dry-fi" is, which apparently James Wood of The New Yorker performed on Jeffrey Eugenides?), e-books (we heard opinions on whether it is important while you are reading a book to know how close to the end you are) and competition from "the ultimate post-colonial form"(possibly), the short story.

And finally, the future of the novel is …

Jeffrey Eugenides: “In my day, because of semiotics we knew that the novel was dying and we had to revive it. Now with my students it’s just about getting them to use punctuation. In my view the future of the novel seems to be unpunctuated.”

Jeffrey Eugenides shows off The Ring and the Book

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:00


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