What is to become of TEV?
I’m not entirely sure yet. The benign neglect that has characterized the last year or so might well be an indication that it’s time to pack things in. Yet there’s something in me that stops me from pulling the plug. I continue to value the intelligent discussion with smart, committed and opinionated readers and, despite the overwhelming number of book-related sites, I continue to find that sort of dialogue in strangely short supply.
In recent weeks I’ve read a number of posts at lauded sites, sites I admire, written by folks I like, and I’ve been, well, dismayed at how lousy they can be. But that’s nothing, in and of itself – we all have our off days, we’ve all written things we probably would like to take back.
What I found more troubling was the chorus of commenters who would invariably leap in after each post declaiming its virtues. And I’ve come to believe that perhaps the problem with the internet isn’t that it gives voice to every crank with a keyboard and a broadband connection. No, it may be that the insidious thing is the insularity of the waiting chorus of those who champion mediocrity, who validate self-indulgence or unoriginal thinking.
So, what I can say is that the days of daily updates of literary news are probably over. That sort of thing is crazy time-consuming but, more importantly, I’m just not as interested in this prize and that obituary as I once was. Plus I have some considerable life changes to navigate, not to mention a novel to finish.
What I will continue to do is to run interviews with authors of note; to point out books I think are worthy of your attention and to wave you off the overrated ones; to take this piss out of the occasional blowhard; to draw your attention to especially thoughtful essays and discussions online; to continue to post about teaching and share some of my writing lessons; to post longer, random train of thought essays (like this one) and to discuss second novel travails. (A new post on that subject is in the works.)
And, of course, I will continue to advise you on all matters Banville-related.
Speaking of which, I’ve been asked several times about my failure to discuss Banville’s latest novel The Infinites. Some people have taken my relative silence to be somehow damning. Not the case. There are three reasons why I haven’t talked as much about the novel as I might.
First, I’ve come to realize that there is an assumption among my readers that a Banville novel is a pre-sold quantity to me. I’m not sure that’s entirely inaccurate, but at a minimum, I suspect no TEV reader would have been much surprised to see me endorse the novel. (Which, incidentally, I do.)
Second, many of you are likely to remember that Banville was kind enough to blurb Harry, Revised. And so I found myself perhaps a bit oversensitive to accusations of logrolling and the like. On the one hand, I’ve seen enough about the ecology of blurbs that I’ve come to understand they are, as often as not, gestures of friendship as they are of critical respect. (Think of the familiar round-robin of names that routinely surfaces on the back of any novel by Believer alumni.) On the other, a good book is a good book, whether written by a friend or foe, and I’ve come to see it seems excessively fastidious not to say so. Still, I continue to pick up books hopefully, gambling each time against experience that a blurb will be meaningful, and so I’ve been a bit reluctant to further undermine an already debased form.
Finally, and most relevant, I hadn’t actually read the book until last month.
How on earth is that possible? Let me explain. MOTEV called me some weeks ago to inform me that her book group had turned to The Infinities, and she was loving it. She was eager to discuss it with me, when I had to shamefacedly admit I hadn’t read it yet. I had started it when it came out, but I’d set it aside and now I couldn’t remember the reason. The last year really has been tumultuous, and amid my personal travails and focus on my novel, much has fallen by wayside.
So I picked up the book and began it again, and was thrilled anew as I always am by Banville’s prose. After a dozen pages or so, I remembered why I’d put it down. My novel is, among other things, about a character dealing with the death of his father. Which is one of the main themes of The Infinities. I decided that I wanted to avoid any additional Banville influence – as it is, anyone who has read The Book of Evidence will immediately see that my book is a rip-off, um, homage to this earlier work. So I decided to wait.
Unfortunately, Novel 2 has taken much longer than planned – subject of the future post – and I realized at this rate, it might be years before I could read it. And I remembered something Joseph O’Neill said when I interviewed him:
TEV: Do you read fiction while you are writing fiction?
Joseph O’Neill: I do. And I might do a couple of quick laps, and that’s it. It depends. Obviously, I can’t go seven years without reading a book. If I’m stuck for juice, I will go back to certain writers or investigate new writers and find out what’s going on.
TEV: Will there be any risk of seepage when that happens?
Joseph O’Neill: I hope so. I mean, you want a little bit of that. You know, you’ve got be grown up about influences. I think you’ve either got it or you haven’t. By ‘it’ I mean the knack of writing something valuable that’s your own. So if you are worried about being influenced, it’s almost a pointless worry. Either you’re going to be influenced or you’re not going to be influenced—it doesn’t change anything, it’s all about whether you have the knack. Anyway, the alternative is to not read anything. And no one can be a writer without being familiar with other writers.
And so I decided to bring it, and I’m glad I did. The Infinites is superb, and O’Neill is right, it makes a difference. Which makes it a timely moment for Harold Bloom’s latest to land on my desk. About which I intend to say more in the future. For now, I leave things here in a state of fragile equipoise, and I assure you posting here will continue, as the form struggles to make itself known to me.