Thursday, May 25, 2006

Notes from a dank garret

Various literary pundits and practitioners have been offering their thoughts on first novels in the latest Bookforum.

"That first novel will be like a rock in Virginia Woolf's pocket," says William H Gass. "Unless it is very bad, the author will never write anything as good again—it will be said. Critics who complained of the first novel will wish the writer would write another like it in order to complain (by comparison) of the sixth." But I don't get his next point: "Though Ulysses is a first novel, it is not a first novel."

Across the page, Craig Seligman also suggests that the true value of a first novel is only revealed in the context of history: "But we don't read in a vacuum, and, however exacting our critical faculties, we don't read the first novels of the writers we care about for their merits alone. There's also the pleasure—one part malice, nine parts love—of seeing our gorgeous friends in their gawky adolescence."

The belief that a substantial number of writers ever grow out of their adolescence is touching, if misguided.

5 comments:

Spinsterella said...

Well that's mainly a load of bollocks.

I'd explain more, but it's past my bedtime and I'm off to Hay tomorrow.

"Though Ulysses is a first novel, it is not a first novel."

What?

corin said...

We do, it's true, not read in a vaccuum. As my da-vinci code/Doctor Who blog elegantly demonstrates. And as the first (and thus far only) person to get the answer, you win the prize. Sadly (given your location) it's a pint, but Billy informs me that you might be in London soon, so just let us know where and when and pintage shall be yours!

Tim Footman said...

Spin: Maybe you can find some clever litcrit boffin in Hay who will elucidate. Cos I'm buggered if I understand.

Corin: That's very decent of you, sir. I was wondering whether to arrange a general get-together for my various blogchums at some central London hostelry next month. Any thoughts, anyone?

WV: jzymzabs. Wa-hey, Polish porn!

Interpreter Pavlov said...

Don't know where to start on this load of - what Spin said. Anybody can find a selection of novels to back their case, although I found C.Seligman's analysis of George Eliot quite perceptive. You could play a sort of literary Mornington Crescent to equal purpose.

Thinks: *Is this the place to start it off?*

I wish I could read the caption on your pipe. Ancient wisdom may lurk here.

Tim Footman said...

It says: "Ceci n'est pas une pipe."

Which seems terribly paradoxical. Until you realise that it's completely true. It's not a pipe. It's a picture of a pipe.

Foucault squeezed a whole book out of the idea.

God, I'd have loved to have played Mornington Cresecent with Magritte. And maybe Duchamp and Satie.