EURO LIT NEWS
by Andrew Gallix and Andrew Stevens
of 3AM Magazine


Info on The Columnists

From Derrida, R.I.P. "Compare [The Grapes of Wrath] to postmodernist fiction, a form of torture so heinous that it surely contravenes the Geneva Convention. Look at the execrable novels of Thomas Pynchon or David Foster Wallace, trapped in self-referential Derridan word-games and irrelevance while a world warms and wails outside their pages. The critic Dale Peck has described the postmodern implosion of the novel perfectly: "This is a tradition that has systematically divested itself of any ability to comment on anything other than its own inability to comment on anything.""



THE TALENTED MR HOLLINGHURST

As an annual publishing event, the Man Booker Prize draws attention across the globe, not just in Europe. This year was no exception, with Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty emerging as the winner after a frantic judging process which saw a strong challenge on the part of David Mitchell's innovative odyssey Cloud Atlas. The winning novel, a tale of cocaine-fuelled excess during Thatcher era Britain, not only restores the prize as the domain of the 'safe British novel' (Mr Hollinghurst is a former Deputy Editor of the Times Literary Supplement) after last year's upset to the established order in the form of DBC Pierre's darkly comic Vernon God Little, it also forms part of a glut of novels published this year that pay direct homage to Henry James. 3:AM ran the unofficial Booker blog during the duration of the judging process (archived at booker2004.blogspot.com). Suzy Feay in The Independent provided a far racier account of the prize ceremony than we were able to from our vantage point:

"It's difficult to argue that Hollinghurst didn't deserve his win: The Line of Beauty is an excellent novel, moving and swishingly readable. It is basically an Eighties update of Brideshead Revisited though, and frightfully arch, with its namby-pamby narrator bleating on about music and Boulle furniture, whatever that is. Also, its satire of ludicrous pretension doesn't entirely acquit it of the self-same charge. So, on to the winner's after-show party, which turns out to be a quiet affair. Hollinghurst's gone silent again, those saucy eyes dancing merrily all over the place. Someone rushes up to me and says: "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Do they think I'm Rowan Pelling? Unobtrusively, I check my marrons glacÚs, then realise my presence on the telly must have been misconstrued. Cloud Atlas will go down, with Burgess's Earthly Powers, as one of the best novels never to win the Booker. It looks forward, while The Line of Beauty looks back. What will David Mitchell do next? remains a burning question. What Alan Hollinghurst will do next seems less pressing. Explain what Boulle furniture is, presumably."

Also, showing their literary acumen to be somewhat at fault, Prospect weighed in pre-prize with a lofty prediction:

"By the time you read this, the Booker prize-winner will have been announced. So here's a little gamble, made before Prospect went to press. We say that David Mitchell has won. Not original, perhaps, since that's what the bookies predicted, but the point is that not only Cloud Atlas, but Mitchell's two previous novels, Ghostwritten and Number9Dream, show him to be the most exciting British novelist currently at work. If the Booker judges haven't recognised that now, then... doh!"


CHEAP ITALIAN PORN

Serpent's Tail, generally a publisher associated with releasing worthy offbeat novels, staked some considerable fortune on the controversy generated by Italian author Melissa P's One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed, a tale of teenage sexual experimentation and abandon through the eyes of a young Catherine M, which otherwise generated poor reviews for its bad prose. Jane Shilling in the Telegraph:

"It would be surprising if a teenage diary were not rather callow and unformed in style, and perhaps it is the English translation, by Lawrence Venuti, that is responsible for the clunking genital euphemisms ("my fireplace", "his lance") to which Melissa is unluckily devoted. The tiny inauthentic detail, which makes one wonder whether this memoir mightn't contain some element of invention, is Melissa's odd habit of wearing hold-up stockings with jeans, which sounds more like male fantasy than anything a real woman of any age would do: the friction between the jeans and the stockings would make the hold-ups fall down in highly unerotic fashion. Or perhaps Sicilian stockings are just more tenacious than the regular variety."


DERRIDA R.I.P

The death of French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida was widely remarked upon from a number of perspectives, appreciative and not-so appreciative of the pipe-smoking one's contribution to academic and philosophical endeavour. Firstly, Terry Eagleton in The Guardian:

"His first great works appeared in Paris on the eve of the political explosion of May 1968, at a time when he was close to, but critical of, the French Communist party. Since the party had cravenly supported the French repression of Algeria, and since Derrida was an Algerian Jewish colonial, his oblique relations to official Marxism were understandable.

But he remained a staunch member of the political left. He aimed to prise open classical leftist ideas such as Marxism to the marginal, the aberrant; in this sense his project had affinities with the work of Raymond Williams, EP Thompson, Stuart Hall and the 1970s feminists in Britain. A vital part of the heritage of May '68 has been extinguished.

Derrida once remarked that he wanted to "write like a woman". He was one of a lineage of anti-philosophers, from Kierkegaard to Wittgenstein, who invented a new style of philosophical writing. He understood that official thought turns on rigorously exclusive oppositions: inside/outside, man/woman, good/evil. He loosened up such paranoid antitheses by the flair and brio of his writing, and in doing so spoke up for the voiceless, from whose ranks he had emerged."

And, for the rebuttal, Johann Hari in The Independent:

"The deconstructionist virus has swept through the humanities departments of universities across Europe and America. But the best way to demonstrate the intellectual collapse this has caused is by looking at the impact of postmodernism on fiction. The fiction the preceded postmodernism - for all its flaws - usually engaged with the world. At its best, it even tried to change it: John Steinbeck hitched a wagon across Depression-scarred California and found a family that became the subject for The Grapes of Wrath.

Compare that to postmodernist fiction, a form of torture so heinous that it surely contravenes the Geneva Convention. Look at the execrable novels of Thomas Pynchon or David Foster Wallace, trapped in self-referential Derridan word-games and irrelevance while a world warms and wails outside their pages. The critic Dale Peck has described the postmodern implosion of the novel perfectly: "This is a tradition that has systematically divested itself of any ability to comment on anything other than its own inability to comment on anything.""


CRITICAL MASTER

A study of V.S. Pritchett has shed new light on the English author's life, much to the surprise of even his son. Pritchett, an eminent literary critic and gifted writer, was eagerly received on both sides of the Atlantic, though as Stephen Smith mentions in his Guardian review of Jeremy Treglown's celebrated biography, he "had a life-long dread of the bailiff's knock". Pritchett's son Oliver writes in the Telegraph:

"It is a strange, uneasy feeling reading a book about one's father so soon after his death - he died in 1997. The first shock, oddly, was a knock to the amour-propre. Most of us regard ourselves as the world's leading authority on our parents. We've known them since we were born, after all. We have letters, intimate family memories, exclusive information. It's a blow when somebody comes along who knows things we had no idea about. I thought I knew all the V. S. Pritchett published short stories, but Treglown discovered others I had never heard of. My sister Josephine and I always knew how prolific our father was, spending our childhood in the "word factory", tiptoeing round the house and whispering while he worked in his study; not thinking it at all odd that he would head off for a couple of hours' writing on Christmas morning."


POLITICAL REAWAKENINGS

The US Presidential election concentrated the minds of not only the McSweeney's set but also that of authors such as ZZ Packer. In Britain, Scotland to be precise, a coterie of Scottish writers such as Irvine Welsh, Alasdair Gray, Iain Banks and AL Kennedy gathered under the banner unfurled by the Scottish Socialist Party (the party's spokesperson on drugs issues, Kevin Williamson, was editor of the celebrated literary journal Rebel Inc.) which called for an independent Scottish republic on the day the new Scottish Parliament was opened by the British monarch. The Guardian commented:

"Mr Banks said; "I don't believe in going to anything that involves the royals; all that bowing and scraping just encourages the blighters. I'm a citizen of Scotland, thanks, and deeply resent the imposition of being termed a "subject" of anything or anybody.

Mr Welsh added: "It's time we got it together and started doing things ourselves rather than blaming London or Brussels or even the current toytown parliament, which is set up for failure, every time things go wrong.

In fact, a poem by the 84-year old Edwin Morgan will be read out at the official Holyrood ceremony, despite the fact that the anti-monarchy poet is supporting the rival event. Today he called the royals "a dysfunctional family"."


ANYTHING BUT THE LAST PARTY

Unlike its stuffy London equivalent, the Frankfurt Book Fair actually possesses something of a carnival atmosphere, with drinking being as much on the agenda as dollar signs in agents' eyes. John Harris of The Observer and author of The Last Party, a dissection of 'Cool Britannia', went there to soak up the atmosphere (and the alcohol):

"According to those who have been coming here for years - a large number of whom seem to be perma-smoking, impossibly elegant middle-aged European women, somewhere between Camille Paglia and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate - Frankfurt is not quite as it was. Before the advent of email, when synopses and manuscripts could not be zipped across continents, it teetered close to being a theatre of the absurd. Publishers would frequently be locked in reading rooms - having signed documents agreeing not to take notes - and expected to write cheques on the basis of a 20-minute skim. It doesn't seem to have made for the most level-headed of atmospheres: the daily Frankfurt edition of Bookseller magazine features a quote from a publisher at Bloomsbury, recalling the time she bought the UK rights to Isabel Allende's magic realist classic The House Of The Spirits by mistake, under the impression it was a biography of the widow of Salvador Allende'.

Moreover, the overwhelming sense of alcohol-assisted frenzy was manifested in a hysterical quest to hype one or two books into the skies, thereby creating that very modern syndrome known as an Expectations Problem. As recently as 2001, coverage of Frankfurt was scythed down to a surreal supposed battle between Brian Greene's Stephen Hawking-esque The Fabric Of The Cosmos and Victoria Beckham's autobiography."




About the Columnists
Andrew Gallix and Andrew Stevens edit the celebrated cult literary webzine 3AM Magazine from Paris and London respectively.

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