Posts Tagged ‘novels’
June 10, 2016 | by Miranda Popkey
How Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai cultivates ambition in its readers.
In the late nineties, Helen DeWitt, a then-unpublished writer with a Ph.D. in classics from Oxford, got an offer on her first novel, The Seventh Samurai. It had been seventeen months since her agent had indicated she would be able to get an advance based on the first six chapters of the manuscript—which, in the absence of a contract, DeWitt had diligently been attempting to finish. After she received the offer, she wrote to her agent; she felt she was likely to commit suicide if she had to continue working with her. Looking over her editor's comments, she scarcely felt more hopeful. When a contract arrived, she decided not to sign it.
Some time later, a friend showed the manuscript to Jonathan Burnham, then at Talk Miramax Books; he immediately offered her $70,000. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, the novel caused what can fairly be called a sensation; but the enthusiasm of foreign houses did not make English-language publication any easier. DeWitt spent months battling her copy editor, who had ignored DeWitt’s edits and imposed hundreds of standardizing changes of her own. It was, DeWitt told the Observer in 2011, as if they were trying to “kill the mind that wrote the book.”
In 2000, DeWitt’s novel was released as The Last Samurai. (DeWitt was forced to change the title, only to see its Google results buried, three years later, beneath the Tom Cruise movie of the same name). In The New Yorker, A. S. Byatt hailed it as “a triumph—a genuinely new story, a genuinely new form.” Read More »
June 8, 2016 | by Caitlin Love
Inspired by our famous Writers at Work interviews, “My First Time” is a series of short videos about how writers got their start. Created by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling, each video is a portrait of the artist as a beginner—and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.
This installment features Helen DeWitt, who discusses her debut novel, The Last Samurai, published in 2000. After seven years of writing unfinished novels, DeWitt decided to quit her job as a legal secretary and devote herself to finishing one book. “I thought, I just I have to quit until my money runs out … I’m going just to sit down and do nothing but work on this book, and I’m going to finish it in a month. Then I will have a finished book, and, see, it doesn’t matter what happens then.” Read More »
May 24, 2016 | by Jonathan Lee
The first sentence of Stephanie Danler’s riveting debut novel is perhaps more an injunction than an imperative: “You will develop a palate.” Over the 355 pages of Sweetbitter, the narrator, twenty-two-year-old Tess, encounters a number of appetites. She arrives in New York City during the heat wave of 2006 and applies for a job at a prestigious Manhattan restaurant. The manager, a man, stares at her just a little too long—the black sundress, the pilled cardigan wet with sweat—and we sense that her education will soon begin. Oysters, Pinot Noir, lines of coke at the bar. “The sour, the salty, the sweet, the bitter.” Read More »
May 6, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- With Zero K out, Don DeLillo is doing that most un-DeLillo of things: giving interviews. He told Mark O’Connell, “The novel still exists. And to my mind it still can be called a flourishing form. There are so many good younger writers. It’s clear people are drawn towards the form—people who want to write are drawn toward the novel. It’s the most accommodating form, certainly within fiction, and the most challenging. And it’s very heartening to see so many good young writers. Don’t ask me for names. But I do know the work of some of them, and I do know the opinions of people I respect who read more than I do. So I don’t feel any dismay concerning the form itself … I find that being active as a fiction writer propels one toward the future, in a way.”
- While we’re on DeLillo: it’s comforting, in some small way, to know that Ben Rhodes, the nation’s deputy national-security adviser for strategic communications, has or has had DeLillo on his mind. “He saw the planes hit the towers, an unforgettable moment of sheer disbelief followed by panic and shock and lasting horror, a scene that eerily reminded him, in the aftermath, of the cover of the Don DeLillo novel Underworld … He was in the second year of the M.F.A. program at NYU, writing short stories about losers in garden apartments and imagining that soon he would be published in literary magazines, acquire an agent and produce a novel by the time he turned twenty-six. He saw the first tower go down, and after that he walked around for a while … ‘I immediately developed this idea that, you know, maybe I want to try to write about international affairs,’ he explained.”
- The Crucible is sixty-three years old, and for all its heavy-handedness it’s still a great way to rile yourself up about despotism, especially when it’s set, as a new production is, in a contemporary elementary school: “For viewers around the globe, the play evokes frustrations with tyrannical, violent political leaders. As election season engulfs us, Ivo van Hove’s production urges us to consider our country’s currently campaigning personalities … Times never really change, Van Hove suggests. We’re all still schoolchildren, feuding and petty and hesitant to admit our mistakes. There’s a thin line between theatrics and rabble-rousing and the human inclination to follow spectacular reasoning, regardless of its truth. What matters more is what’s being taught and what’s been learned.”
- Optical illusions can save your life, man. And your soul. India’s transport ministry has used some sleight of hand to make their crosswalks seem to levitate from the street, which reminds Kelly Grovier of a memento mori from the sixteenth century: “When it was unveiled in 1533, the double portrait The Ambassadors by the German and Swiss artist Hans Holbein the Younger must have struck observers as a road bump for the soul. Looked at straight on from the front, the huge oil-on-oak painting is enigmatic enough, presenting to the observer a pair of distinguished diplomats caught in a clutter of worldly amusements: musical instruments and scientific whatnots scattered about the shelves on which they lean … But pass by the painting at a shallow angle from the left, such that your eye catches the work by chance in the periphery of its vision, and a mystery tucked into the center of the painting stops you cold. Only from that askance vantage do you see the optical illusion Holbein has secretly positioned into the foreground of his work: the cracked cranium of a spooky skull grinning back you.”
- Today in correlations that seem absurd on the face of it, but then you give them a little thought and you’re like, Oh, yeah, that kind of makes sense: Ping-Pong-table sales are tethered to the fate of the tech industry. As goes tech, so goes Ping-Pong. “Is the tech bubble popping? Ping-Pong offers an answer, and the tables are turning … Table buying ‘tracks most closely with start-ups that hit that threshold where they’re taking out office space,’ says Russell Hancock, chief executive of think tank Joint Venture Silicon Valley, which follows economic trends. ‘That’s when you’re going to get your first Ping-Pong table.’ Table sellers seeing a decline include David Vannatta, sales team leader at Sports Authority in San Francisco. The store was getting a ‘good flow of tech companies’ buying tables, he says, but sales have fallen since Christmas.”
May 3, 2016 | by Ane Farsethås
Édouard Louis, born in 1992, grew up in Hallencourt, a village in the north of France where many live below the poverty line. Now his account of life in that village, written when he was nineteen, has ignited a debate on class and inequality, foisting Louis into the center of French literary life.
En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (Finishing off Eddy Bellegueule) is unsparing in its descriptions of the homophobia, alcoholism, and racism that animated Louis’s youth in Hallencourt. “We thought the book would be as invisible as the people it describes,” said Louis, who rejects any romantic views of the “authenticity” of working-class life. His publisher thought the first edition, two thousand copies, would last years. But hundreds of thousands of copies have sold in France, and the book is being translated into more than twenty languages. The novel, which has earned Louis comparisons to Zola, Genet, and de Beauvoir, is set to appear in English later this year.
Eddy Bellegueule can be read as a straightforward coming-of-age story, but beneath its narrative is an almost systematic examination of the norms and habits of the villagers—inspired, Louis has said, by the theories of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It’s as if he’s taken the whole place and put it behind glass—like observing the inner workings of an anthill.
Who is Eddy Bellegueule, and why do you want to finish him off?
Eddy Bellegueule is the name my parents gave me when I was born. It sounds dramatic, but yes, I wanted to kill him—he wasn’t me, he was the name of a childhood I hated. The book shows how—before I revolted against my childhood, my social class, my family, and, finally, my name—it was my milieu that revolted against me. My father and my brothers wanted to finish off Eddy Bellegueule long before, at a time when I was still trying to save him. Read More »
April 29, 2016 | by Robert Cohen
Richard Fariña’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me turns fifty.
I am gazing, as I write, at a black-and-white photograph of Richard Fariña with his wife, Mimi (née Baez) Fariña, taken backstage at the Newport Folk Festival nine months before his death—fifty years ago this week—at the age of twenty-nine. To call the photo romantic would be an understatement. Mimi, her face a dark flower offered to an invisible sun, appears to be literally bursting out of her flip-flops as she executes some twirling, Isadora Duncan-y ballet step; while Richard, swarthy and black-haired, his eyes fondly delta’d (the Ray-Bans in his hand having apparently proven useless against all this brightness), looks like he can’t quite believe his luck, to have aligned his future with this lovely, exuberant sprite, a princess in folk’s royal family. He’s having a pretty good run of it for a guy who plays the dulcimer. And technically he doesn’t even play it that well. Read More »