Saturday, 20 June 2009

Mavis Gallant plays cricket

The current Granta has a long interview with one of my new heroes, Mavis Gallant (see somewhere not far below). More of a meandering chat. She gives nothing away. Why the back-and-forth chronology? ‘I can’t tell you. That’s what I wanted.’ What inspired a particular story? ‘I don’t know.’ Multiple points-of-view in a single story, was this something that came easily? ‘It must have, or I wouldn’t have done it.’ I don’t think she’s being evasive, just honest. It’s not surprising she has little truck with the teaching of writing. At one point she searches for ‘some junkie word’ – ‘Workshop?’ ‘Yes.’

There are other comic moments: ‘Did you ever work in cafes?’ ‘As a waitress?’ ‘I meant to write in.’ And this: if she knew what she was up to in her writing, she wouldn’t bother – ‘I’d be something else. I’d be a champion cricket player. Maybe I am a champion cricket player, in another life.’

And she admires Elizabeth Bowen. (But won’t be pressed: ‘What do you admire in particular about Bowen?’ ‘Oh, I loved her stories.’) Of course she does.

There is, by the way, a fine ‘Brief Survey of the Short Story’ running in a tucked-away corner of the Guardian website. The first piece (on Chekhov) was posted in October 2007, and number 18 (on Stefan Zweig) this month. In between are, as well as predictable names (Kafka, Carver; and, yes, Gallant), unpredictable ones (Maclaren-Ross, H. P. Lovecraft) and far-sighted ones (Akutagawa, Etgar Keret). The whole series is intelligent, helpful, generous – well worth cutting out (I mean printing off) and keeping.

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