My mother and I both subscribed to the New York Review of Books and often talked of the pieces and ideas. Read this one, don't miss that, don't waste your time on that one. Golly, I miss that. I miss her. We both agreed that this periodical that comes out every two weeks was very uneven. Sometimes, every single page was worth the time. The writing can be dense and aren't light, quick reading. And other times, there was nothing of interest - at least to neither of us.
And this issue is one of those full ones. Hillary Mantel was one of my mother's favorite authors. Her novel, A Change of Climate was two of her all time favorites (the other is Stendahl's The Red and the Black). And in the current issue, Mantel reviews Coetzee's latest novel, Diary of a Bad Year.
The review includes some gems about why novelists write and why novels are important. (These excerpts really don't do the review justice)
- “To write a novel you have to be like Atlas, holding up a whole world on your shoulders and supporting it there for months and years while its affairs work themselves out.” (direct quote from Coetzee’s novel.)
- "He has an attraction, perhaps for this writer, always there to 'the way of quietism, of willed obscurity, of inner emigration.'" (Mantel, quoting Coetzee)
- "It is not only fear of death that disturbs the novelist; every time one sits down to write, a gap like the grave opens up between intention and effect. Taking it to be his proper daily task, an artist spends his life trying to narrow that gap, but for what? So that he can impose his 'strong opinions' on the world? So that his perhaps worthless personality is stamped all over everything he touches?...At heart he is not a novelist after all, they say, but a pendant who dabbles in fiction." (All Mantel, referring to Coetzee's protagonist, known as C)
- "C believes that Ivan's opinions are wrong. But he hears that his voice is true. 'It is the voice of Ivan, as realized by Dostoevsky, not his reasoning, that sweeps me along.'" (Mantel summarizing C's view of Ivan, the protagonist in The Brothers Karamazov and then quoting C)
- "The novel, as a form, justifies itself by being the arena where such intellectual and emotional battles can be fought...As Auden says, 'About suffering they were never wrong/The Old Masters.' The masters of the novel form - Tolstoy, Dostoevsky himself - show us the way. 'They annihilate one's impurer pretentions; they clear one's eyesight; they fortify one's arm.'" (Mantel citing Auden and Coetzee)
- "...in the negotiations performed in that [white] space, the power of this novel resides; not with the above-the-line argument, not with the rational and impersonal, but the human particularity through which the rational argument is meditated. This is the 'why' of the novel, of any novel. Polemics are not enough."
"In his essay on Robert Walser, Coetzee refers to the pleasure the writer got from 'damselling,' which he defines as 'experiencing a feminine life imaginatively from the inside.' We are probably safe in saying that Coetzee is not damselling as Anya appears to have the soul of a performer in a burlesque show: 'As I pass him, carrying the laundry basket, I make sure I waggle my behind, my delicious behind, sheathed in tight denim. If I were a man I would not be able to keep my eyes off me.'"
I really encourage the full read. Read here. Note: I'm pretty sure access is limited to subscribers - but this issue, in my humble view, is worth the price. Tomasky has an intriguing piece on the Republicans and Garry Wills, always good, writes about Romney and Religion.
And if any of you do read it, I'd love to talk about it with someone.
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