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October 2018



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I Blame Julian Barnes

Flaubert’s Parrot was published in 1984. I should say straight away that I like this clever book rather a lot, yet I feel it’s had a malign influence on publishing. It’s the title. Barnes’ book is ‘about’ Flaubert (and a lot of other things); it’s neither straight narrative nor an imaginative reconstruction of Flaubert’s thoughts and actions. It works. Unfortunately, the publishing world went overboard for history masquerading as fiction: Longitude, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, Galileo’s Daughter: yawn, yawn, yawn.

I’ve just read Justine Picardie’s Daphne, a multi-layered set of narratives including Daphne du Maurier’s alleged thoughts (they coil and writhe, apparently, or possibly writhe and coil) and paranoia. I found this rather disturbing. Just out is The Children’s Book by A S Byatt, which, I read, has characters ‘based on’ Edith Nesbit, Eric Gill et al. Both books must have required a great deal of research and my question is this: ‘You are novelists; why don’t you invent your own characters?’

The books I most enjoyed last year, apart from re-reads and thrillers, included these: A Very Long Engagement, Sebastien Japrisot; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer; Sputnik Caledonia, Andrew Crumey; What Was Lost, Catherine O’Flynn; Star Gazing, Linda Gillard. Each in its own way excited or charmed me by its originality and by the author’s imaginative powers. I think I’ll read another good thriller. Robert Goddard would fit the bill.


But trying to get under the skin of a real person - or somebody else's character - is a skill and a challenge too. That's the appeal of fanfic. Well, that and writing the lesbian love scenes, apparently.
A lot of people love it but it's not for me!
Ooh, I also like Metroland. I tend to prefer his earlier books.

'Schubert's Footstool' Ha ha ha! You get my point exactly.
That is more or less how I feel about it. A few days ago I read a review on a Dutch blog of The Dig by John Preston (would that be the John Preston?). It is a novel about the people who found the treasures at Sutton Hoo (Preston's aunt was one of the archeologists). It sounds like a great read, but I don't like the idea that real people are used as characters in a novel. Either make it a non-fiction account or change names and places and don't say what it is based on.
It's a current fashion, like misery memoirs.
I think you've expressed in a nutshell what I didn't care for about 'Daphne', either.
I have to say I really disliked it!