Sunday, 20 March 2011

Baltic (3)

The town library is good, even if the English section is a bit like a second-hand bookstore: what you’re looking for isn’t there, but on the other hand there’s plenty you didn’t realise you wanted to read until now. Last week I read the story collection by Wells Tower, who is annoyingly young and ridiculously talented. But. Then I read Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, a swashbuckling yarn set around the Caspian Sea in the 10th century, which is terrific, and here’s a quote from the Afterword (you can quote it back to anyone who tells you to write from what you know, from your own experience) in which he recalls that most of his early stories ‘featured unarmed Americans undergoing the eternal fates of contemporary short-story characters – disappointment, misfortune, loss, hard enlightenment, moments of bleak grace. Divorce; death; illness; violence, random and domestic; divorce; bad faith; deception and self-deception; love and hate between fathers and sons, men and women, friends and lovers; the transience of beauty and desire; divorce – I guess that about covers it. Story, more or less, of my life . . . I’m not saying – let me be clear about this – I am not saying that I disparage or repudiate my early work, or the genre (late-century naturalism) it mostly exemplifies . . . It’s just that here, in Gentlemen of the Road as in some of its recent predecessors, you catch me in the act of trying, as a writer, to do what many of the characters in my earlier stories were trying, longing, ready to do: I have gone off in search of a little adventure.’

Why is Orhan Pamuk – in the photograph, captioned ‘wittering’, at the top of the Observer review of his book about the novel (the online version anyway, I don’t know about the print edition) – standing in the doorway to the fire escape on the old Faber building in Queen Square? That’s the smoking place. I know this because I worked on the top floor of that building for several years, and made daily use of that doorway and the little rusting balcony.

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