Thursday 23 February 2017

Just a little bit of fiction repeating

'What I'm saying," Booker prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro (below) confessed recently, "is that I've written the same book three times. I just somehow got away with it." Not being a fully-committed devotee of Ishiguro's fiction, I can't be sure which three he's talking about, but repeating oneself is nothing new in literature.

Jane Austen never strayed from the milieu with which she was intimately familiar or, indeed, from the narrative device of thwarted and delayed fulfilment. Trollope wrote six novels about Barchester and another half-dozen about the Pallisers. Henry James returned constantly to his theme of the American innocent abroad.

Meanwhile in Russia, Chekhov chronicled the disappointments and despairs of his lost souls in play after play, while a recurrent motif in Turgenev is the futility of individual aspirations in the face of time and destiny.

Nearer our own time, Evelyn Waugh made his reputation with a series of comic novels about frivolous bright young things in London, Philip Roth couldn't get away for decades from fictional alter ego Zuckerman, and John McGahern found it impossible to escape the pull of Leitrim; while on the contemporary scene Patrick McCabe remains obsessed with the stray sod country around his native Clones.

So Ishiguro shouldn't fret over repetition. It's the depth of vision, not the diversity of subject matter or location, that's important.

*****

I see that Victoria Glendinning, who has written fine biographies of Trollope and Elizabeth Bowen, among many other subjects, is being forced to self-finance the research for her next book, a study of Raffles of Singapore. Nor has she yet found a publisher for it. "I'll write 50 pages and try to sell it," she says.

Apparently, publishers are shying away from serious biographies, claiming they're unprofitable. This is very sad, given that some of the outstanding books in the last decade have been in that area. Meanwhile, ill-written crap about footballers, fashion models and reality show contestants still get favoured by the major publishers.

Irish Independent

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