Thursday 15 January 2015


A thing about reading many contemporary novels and poems is that often they make me conscious of doing so. That is, there’s me, the book, and the author too, saying ‘Hey, this is me writing a novel/poem, how’s it going?’

This happens at least as often, more, with work that’s conventional in form and content as it does with the kind of writing that gets called ‘experimental’.

I’d prefer the author to wander off, leaving just me and the book, but really I’m arguing against myself here, the best kind of argument. An ephemeral review of John Updike – in The Listener? late 1960s? – has stuck with me: the reviewer’s complaint was that whatever was being being described was being done so with such gorgeous resources of language that the reader’s attention was on the description, not the thing being described. And thus, as a description, it was functionally amiss.

Words, of course, get in the way. That’s their tease: see what I’m signifying or see me, me. There’s an early Alan Sillitoe novel in which the protagonist goes on a rampage against his bookshelves: I think all writers sometimes want out of it, the wordiness of it all. Shkolvsky: ‘How I want simply to describe objects as if literature had never existed; that way I could write literarily.’

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