‘Literary talent,’ writes Martin Amis in his new ‘novel’, Inside Story, ‘has perhaps four or five ways of dying. Most writers simply become watery and subtly stale.’ Not so the eighty-three-year-old Don DeLillo, who has published seventeen novels over the last fifty years, all of them muscular, intelligent, prescient. In 1988, he told an interviewer from Rolling Stone, ‘I think fiction rescues history from its confusions.’
Kate Grenville’s new novel, her first in almost a decade, is dedicated to ‘all those whose stories have been silenced’, for which, as its ‘memoirist’–narrator heroine is Elizabeth Macarthur, we might read ‘women’. Did she – wife of the notorious John Macarthur, wool baron in early Sydney – write what Grenville’s publishers call ‘a shockingly frank secret memoir’? In her ‘Editor’s Note’, Grenville tells, tongue firmly in cheek, of there being discovered in the ceiling of a historic Parramatta house under renovation a long-hidden box containing that memoir. In an ‘Author’s Note’ at the book’s end, we are assured that ‘No, there was no box of secrets found in the roof of Elizabeth Farm. I didn’t [as she claimed at the beginning, in her Editor’s Note] transcribe and edit what you’ve just read. I wrote it.’ Perhaps those who thought otherwise failed to observe the book’s epigraph from Elizabeth Macarthur – ‘Do not believe too quickly’ – though whether those words were inscribed by the historic Elizabeth or by Grenville’s fictional one may be a matter for discussion. Apropos of previous books, Grenville the novelist has had disputes with historians about matters of fiction and fact.
Richard Ford, born in 1944, is a North American novelist, short story writer, and anthologist of considerable distinction. His recurring character Frank Bascombe – The Sportswriter (1986), Independence Day (1995), The Lay of the Land (2006), Let Me Be Frank with You (2014) – is a commanding figure of American letters to rank with John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, each a protagonist used by his creator over several novels as a litmus test of his contemporaries and their not always united states.
Towards the end of Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift (1975), at the poet Von Humboldt Fleisher’s funeral on an April day in Chicago, Menasha Klinger, one of three mourners, points to a spring flower and asks Charlie Citrine, the novel’s narrator, to identify it. ‘Search me,’ Citrine replies, ‘I’m a city boy myself. They must be crocuses.’ ...
Novels have been appearing in the last decade or so in which one or more of the characters are actual historical figures, often themselves writers, appearing in propria persona, not considerately disguised and renamed, as Horace Skimpole was in Bleak House, for example. Perhaps the most notorious instance in recent years is Virginia Woolf in Mich ...
‘There is another world, but it is in this one.’ That is Paul Éluard, channelled by Patrick White as one of four epigraphs to The Solid Mandala (1966), a ‘doubleman’ of a novel avant la lettre.Other quotations appended to this story of Waldo and Arthur Brown are taken from Meister Eckhart (‘It is not outside, it is inside: wholly within’) and Patrick Anderson (‘… yet still I long / for my twin in the sun …’).
If his biographer and editor of his Journals is to be believed, by the early 1960s the Brooklyn-born Alfred Kazin was ‘arguably the most sought-after and widely published critic’ in the United States. Kazin (1915–98) claimed that 1956–61 was ‘the greatest period in my life’. Having returned from a teaching post in Amherst to New York City, he succeeded in making a living as a freelance literary critic and essayist, assisted by the occasional visiting professorship (a form of assistance unavailable to his predecessor of sorts, the hero of George Gissing’s New Grub Street). Kazin’s reviews and essays appeared in the Atlantic, Harper’s, American Scholar, the New York Times Book Review, Commentary, Partisan Review, Reporter, and Playboy. He would publish eighty-two articles in the New York Review of Books, of which he observed, possibly biting one of the hands that fed him: ‘Critic for NY Review of Books – someone who argues brilliantly on behalf of the most arbitrary personal prejudices.’
In Wild & Woolley: A Publishing Memoir (2011), Michael Wilding recalls: ‘Morris Lurie sent us a collection, too. I think if he had sent it eighteen months later I would have published it. But when he sent it, right at the beginning, I was narrowly committed to a particular experimental, innovative, new writing … Not publishing Lurie was a decision I later regretted. Over the years I continued to read him, and was increasingly taken by the wit and economy and human observation of his writing.’
In 2003, the year in which Elliot Perlman’s previous novel Seven Types of Ambiguity was published, the eminent gadfly David Marr suggested that Australian novelists failed to address major contemporary social concerns. As if anticipating Marr’s criticisms, Perlman wove a plot that involved stock market speculation (and peculation), upmarket Melbourne brothels, privatised prisons, privately managed health care, downsizing and unemployment in the education sector, the crisis in the humanities, economic rationalism, globalisation. Late-twentieth-century capitalism and its discontents, in short. The novel obviously spoke to the judges of the Miles Franklin Award, who shortlisted it for that pre-eminent, if contentious, prize.