Monday, March 05, 2007

Don't get it right, get it written

Amitava Kumar on How to write a novel: 'I remember being happy every time I wrote a new draft. Each time I would think that the job had been done. But it wasn't. It would never be. It is possible I wouldn't have been able to write the book if I had known this from the beginning.' I am discovering that every draft is simply vulnerable in a different place. Some vulnerabilities are easier to live with than others. So there is such a thing as improvement. But watertight perfection, besides being unattainable would also be unexciting. A text that wasn't susceptible to multiple interpretations - is such a thing even possible?

Alan Bennett's 'The Uncommon Reader' appears in the print edition (only) of this fortnight's LRB. Cheeky, hysterical and full of penetrating insight into what reading does to the mind, the story conjures up a world in which the Queen has suddenly become a voracious reader as a result of having stumbled upon a mobile library in the precincts of one of her palaces. Guided by Norman Seakins, a reedy ginger kitchen boy who is the only other patron of the library, through a literary labyrinth that takes in everything from Ivy Compton-Burnett ('I made her a dame'), J. R. Ackerley, Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Sylvia Plath, Alice Munro, Proust, Dickens, Austen and Woolf, the Queen threatens to create something of a constitutional crisis by taking to that most subversive of activities: writing.

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