January 15, 2007


Steven Augustine

'Saturday' disappointed me as well, but not because I expected it to champion the cultural values I (ostensibly) share with Banville and McEwan against a ruthless incursion from the East. 'Saturday' flops mostly, I feel, as a failed experiment in writing about 'happy' people (as McEwan framed the challenge before the book came out) and also in its duff 'climax'. But who is Banville to chide anyone from his dubious perch as the writer of that sesquipedalian melodrama, 'The Sea'? I know you hold the book in the highest regard and I can't for the life of me figure why. Contrived, torpid, cliche-infested...it's hardly a Jihadi ass-kicker. Truth is, I can quite easily imagine Mohamed Atta *liking* the utterly conventional, woman-scourging old thing. (Try to find a female character in there that doesn't come off as either wicked, creepy or pathetic; most of the men come off badly as well, of course, though more than one male is presented in a rather soft light, by the end).

Has fiction 'lost its power' or are we privileging (and promoting) texts of lesser power for reasons in some way tied up with post-traumatic shock? (i.e., an unconscious longing to return to a 'simpler' era expressed as a reactionary cultural conservatism?)


Thank you for the link to the article on Barbara Pym! I adore her and agree about the fact that she is underrated, just like Franzen, in my humble opinion, is overrated. Time will tell (and we'll be dead by then).

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  • 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."


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