Thursday, May 30, 2013

Morning edition

Slow start this morning. Got up very early but dragged heels to the point where I no longer really had time to make it out the door for a run. (Will just have to make the effort to do something serious later.)

I liked what Christopher Ricks had to say about Lydia Davis at the TLS.

Had a very good conversation with my editor yesterday over lunch to discuss style revisions. That's the priority: I'm hoping to be done with it by mid-June, which seems fairly realistic (depending on how much attention and time I have to devote to my least-favorite triathlon sport, the time-consuming and stressful CYCLING). Official due date of June 30, which I will certainly make - I'm flying to Cayman June 27, so that's my real effective deadline. It sounds as though the book will be out as early as May or June 2014, which I am excited about - I had imagined it might not be coming out till fall or winter.

I usually like Adam Mars-Jones's criticism, but I feel he really missed the point of Kate Atkinson's new novel (that is a LRB subscriber-only link). He doesn't seem to feel at all the deep emotional affective investment in the characters that dominated my experience of it, or the intensity with which we feel the entanglement of paths taken and not taken in individual women's lives (the fallout of a rape, an abortion, a murder, a choice about what sort of job to undertake or whether to have a child) with world-historical events (English-German relations, the Blitz, the arrival of the Russians). I really loved the book - that and Knausgaard are my two favorites of the year, very different from each other in obvious respects but sharing the qualities of being mesmerizing to read and also important in what they have to say. To talk so much about inconsistencies in the cosmology, as it were, without saving space for what Atkinson wants to do in terms of showing how people in families love each other and tug against the imperatives of necessity - I don't know, it's just a little obtuse! I think I might need to write an essay on counterfactuals and the novel: I have some of that work done already, an argument about novels and alternate lives that starts with the famous passage in Middlemarch and considers some obvious important aspects of that topic before going into a more extended reading of Clarissa's counterfactuals. Could write about Atkinson, the Ian Tregillis books and other paths-not-taken science fiction....

On a more frivolous note, I had cause to utter a rare and happy sentence to B. on Sunday evening: "I have had a sufficiency of cake"! A good friend of bride and groom is the proprietor of Meera's Cakes, and she really outdid herself. There were two enormous cakes at the party on Saturday night (I think I can only find a picture of one of them, a reproduction of the turntable P. was spinning the night he first met G. - I can't see/remember what it was, but the single is even accurately rendered! - the other was a ginormous blue-and-green globe, with red dots marking the places where bride and groom have traveled together - one chocolate, one vanilla, both delicious as well as beautiful to look at), and their remains made their way back to my aunt's house, where we gathered for family tea on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Mark Pringle.)


  1. "those pincer-jaws that are Compton-Burnett’s titles"!

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  3. I think Ricks is right about the value of short (or very short) prose, and that its very length creates a different reading experience. However, I'm not convinced that Davis is the master at this sort of writing as everyone seems to claim. Her 'Mothers' story cited in the Ricks piece, for example, is flat and even what I'd call 'faux-deep'. But maybe I'm missing something?

    One of the ways I judge writing is whether I want to keep going back to reread a particular passage or work. My reaction to Davis is far closer to, So what?

    (And 'obtuse' is exactly the right word if someone criticises Atkinson for her inconsistent cosmology, as if this were a rather lame sort of SF novel. At the moment, however, I'm mulling overr what she does with POV shifts; there is an awkwardness at times which may not - or may - serve. I have to assume that a writer as good as Atkinson does things intentionally. Which of course doesn't necessarily mean that they work. )