Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Malouf and the literary pages

I generally find the literary pages in the newspapers on the weekend entertaining -even if I sometimes find the review focus a little narrow at times. (My personal beef is the big reviews of expensive hardbacks from lesser known university presses in the US, usually on some political or foreign affairs topic, that I know are being brought in to this country in quantities of less than 100.)

Anyhow I enjoyed the Malouf interview in the Oz. . I very much enjoyed Johnno and I'm looking forward to reading Every Move You Make. Lots of gems from Mr Malouf, some pure, some cracked and smoky. I find him satisfyingly thought provoking.

I liked his:
"Writers are sometimes very wise in their writing and very foolish as people." A neat conundrum that echoed with me. I find writers often wise in their writing and as wise and foolish as the rest of us at other times. Or as Malouf quotes Auden who put it succinctly: "Our writing is in better taste than our lives."

"My own view is that we ought to write books that need to be written. Books ought to demand to be written rather than be a by-product of your idea of yourself as a writer.There is a lot of pressure on writers not to be out of the limelight and I think you have to absolutely resist that." coda - as long as you don't need to make a living from your writing. I'm not sure that all writers have the luxury of being able to retreat to Tuscany. And there's the possibility that may somebody else can suggest a book that demands to be written or guide you in discovering the book that needs to be written. Is writing more collaborative now than the literary model created in the 70s?

He goes on to say that there are two kinds of books: those that: "come into existence because they are like products of nature… and books that you feel absolutely been willed into existence" and there are too many of the latter because publishers are pursueing "non-serious readers, the people who can be almost trapped into reading a book. It's for them that the whole world of publicity and celebrity of writers is created. Really serious readers don't give a stuff of about any of that." A very purist view, echoing the high-handed criticism of "comfort reading" for children. A kind of no pain without gain view of reading. I've never liked neat binary opposites in arguments particularly; there's a whole bunch of interesting stuff to discover in between.


Anonymous said...

Andrew I thought that was a load of shit. Did you catch the Di Morrissey article a few weeks back? JNow there's some fiction you can make some money from. Go the mainstream, I say! Delwyne said...

I haven't read the article to which you refer but my impression from the quotes used (and having just finished reading Malouf's Fly Away Peter at 11.11 this morning) is that what he was criticising was egotistical writing, books motivated by a writer's need to have the book published, and for the subsequent pay cheque or adoration of a particular set of fans.

"Serious readers" are neither necessarily high brow nor attuned to works of literature, they just appreciate and look for books that contain a sense of realness that exists between the pages, and which cannot be fabricated according to the whim of writers or market forces. These are the people who spend ages browsing in bookstores, who flick through hundreds of pages and wait for the novel to suck them in. They might be drawn to a Booker Prize winner but they're unlikely to buy any book just because it won an award or has a fancy cover, or is written by a "name" author.

To use a tennis analogy the difference between the "products of nature" and those that have been "willed into existence" is similar to that which exists between Pete Sampras and Leyton Hewitt. Funny thing is, though, I'd rather watch Hewitt over Sampras any day.
- Cheers, Craig