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Posts Tagged ‘Damon Galgut’

Well-Read Lovers; Constant Rejection

November 18, 2011 | by

This week we asked our friend Angus Trumble to give us the benefit of his wisdom—and received an embarras de richesses. Thanks to all for your questions and to Angus for his answers; there was none we could bear to cut. By day Angus is the senior curator of paintings and sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art. By night, and sometimes also by day, he blogs on such topics as the euro crisis, the Ladies of Bethany, and his own globe-trotting adventures.

Dear Angus,
Do the best readers make the best lovers? Would you be more likely to break up with someone if they never read, or read all the time?

I am flattered that you feel I have the necessary qualifications to provide an accurate answer to this question. In my experience, the well-read can be excellent lovers, although there are times when a specific literary prompt may inhibit the natural flow, as for example when one’s partner genuinely believes himself to be some sort of Vronsky, when in fact he lacks the magnificent build, military bearing, disposable income, or even the remotest capacity to smolder. I can quite confidently say that it is unlikely that I would ever commence a relationship with a person who never read, which removes the need to break up with him. My parents’ marriage survived a period in the late fifties, when my mother read the complete works of Sir Walter Scott, evidently led in his direction by a genetically encoded taste for the lowering mist, gloomy crags, and bloodstained crofts and glens of the Highlands of Scotland. On the whole, therefore, I am for readers—although it is also true that I would immediately eject anyone whom I caught in bed with a romantic novel by the late Dame Barbara Cartland.

Have you ever had a story accepted for publication through a slush pile?

As a matter of fact I have, although it was a book review and not a story. My first long article for The Times Literary Supplement was entirely unsolicited and dealt with what struck me at the time as a wholly new and remarkable historical analysis of, of all things, the epidemiology of the Black Death. To my astonishment, in due course this offering propelled me onto the front cover, together with an enormously magnified photograph of a plague-carrying flea. So there is hope.

What should you do if you don’t like a book halfway through? How do you know when you should give it up?

For years, far too many years, I fell into the dangerous trap of being determined to finish a book despite having reached the conclusion half way through—or at the very least having become deeply suspicious—that in all probability this would not give me pleasure or profit. Yet essentially I am an optimist, and therefore, I suppose, when faced with undeniable evidence that a novel in which I am immersed is, for example, a bleak and depressing saga of frustrated sexual longing and entirely populated by characters of scarcely conceivable dullness, part of me hopes that twenty pages hence there awaits bright flashes of comic genius that may yet salvage the experience. Optimistic though I continue to be, from the vantage point of comfortable middle age I can now say that this is never true and that certainly the healthiest, most sensible, and efficient strategy is to abandon ship.

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Staff Picks: End of Empires, Keep Your Day Job

December 3, 2010 | by

Mary Gaitskill. Illustration by Adrian Bellesguard.

Sometimes you get lucky: You find a used book for five dollars at The Strand by an author you’ve been meaning to read. The cover of Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin, is garish, and its themes—incest, middle-school mean-girl power dynamics, adolescent pseudo-rape—are objectively repellent. But Gaitskill is so dead-on in her examination of the emotional life of her two central characters that I can’t help losing myself in the pages until finding a line—one girl holds “her aloneness around her like a magic cloak”—that when I look up, I discover I’ve missed my subway stop. —Miranda Popkey

I have been reading J. G. Farrell’s Troubles, a historical novel–cum–comedy of manners set during the Irish guerrilla war of 1919–21. The backdrop is a grand, Victorian-era hotel in County Wexford, whose squash and palm courts are gradually going to seed—a charming, if somewhat creaky allegory for the end of empire. But with history about to blow their roof off, Farrell’s Anglo-Irish protagonists contrive to worry about how to replace the shingles. I'm everywhere reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro’s great theme, how the collapse of old orders gives new license to self-deception. —Robyn Creswell

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Damon Galgut

October 11, 2010 | by

In the unusually high praise of Rian Malan, author of My Traitor’s Heart and great doomsayer of South African letters, the work of novelist Damon Galgut occupies something of a vaunted position: “If there is a posterity, The Good Doctor will be seen as one of the great literary triumphs of South Africa’s transition, a novel that is in every way the equal of J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.” So sayeth Malan—and I’m inclined to agree. The Good Doctor, Galgut’s 2003 Booker Prize–nominated novel, was a tense psychological examination of modern South Africa; The Impostor, his 2008 follow-up, cut perhaps even deeper. This month, Europa Editions publishes Galgut’s latest book, In a Strange Room, a series of linked travel stories told in the shifting perspectives of a South African wanderer named Damon. It has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize as well, which will be announced tomorrow. Galgut recently answered questions by e-mail before leaving his home in Cape Town for the festivities in London.

In a Strange Room is made up of three journeys, each first published in The Paris Review. How did you conceive of these pieces coming together to form a unified whole?

I wrote the first two pieces about ten years ago, but the book still felt incomplete, out of balance somehow. It was only with the addition of the third part, about three years ago, that everything finally cohered. And as is often the case with novels, at least in my case, the unity was felt rather than logically thought out. I’m often the last person to understand that what I sense has a rational basis to it. In this case, it has to do with the three relationships the book deals with. The first is about power. The second is about love. The third is about guardianship, taking care of somebody in need. And when you stop to consider it, these are the three primary forms of human relationships. If you have a connection with another person, not necessarily a positive connection, it’s going to take the form of one or more of these relationships. So that’s the thematic unity of the book, the invisible architecture behind the words. And it’s at no point spelled out, so readers have to sense it in much the same way I did. Read More »