November 08, 2004



Certainly worth examining the rubric a little: that is indeed a loosely phrased question.
Irish writers have a tradition as public figures and have usually found it difficult to stand apart from the
generally impossible political situation: Yeats was terrific at glamorising his fitful attempts to disengage from politics and thus ate his cake and kept it. Seamus Heaney has poems about Derry that are rather agonising pieces, while Colm Toibin has the benefit of a magnificently steady, almost glacial hindsight. Might we speak of creative tension regarding this ticklish point...???

Nathalie Chicha

one quick comment: I didn't ask any bloggers directly. Bloggers either responded to a letter Dan Wickett forwarded asking for responses, or emailed me after reading my request on GalleyCat. If I HAD asked bloggers, I'd (of course, silly Mark) have asked you.


I do hope the "no one asked me" bit came out as dry and tongue in cheek (intended) and not as petulant (which I'm capable of but wasn't feeling).

Nathalie Chicha

About the phrasing: I regret its vagueness, too. I wanted to send out emails to authors (and to Dan, who graciously forwarded the email to the lit-types in his address book) as soon as I could, and I tried to make up for the question's flat phrasing by posting some further thoughts -- as well as some context readers could use to frame their answers -- on the blog: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/archive/2004_11_04_archive.asp#109956135046781990 .

I tried not to offer my own opinion, but I think the posting hints at it. In my opinion, the predictions about how 9/11 would affect culture were more dramatic than its actual effects, and I suspect the same will be true of the presidential election. (An older post on GC about 9/11 makes a similar point, and I'd link to it if only my archives hadn't vanished.)

Dan Wickett

Hey Mark,

I asked you directly! I'll have to start asking Nathalie to ask my questions though as she got a better response from my email list than I usually do.


The comments to this entry are closed.


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."