Thursday, 9 April 2009

MAVIS GALLANT ON WRITING



I have finally opened and begun to read (backwards) the Mavis Gallant book I bought in Paris back in November, Paris Stories. It's one of those books that smells and feels inviting, so I was giddy when I pulled it from its bag. I get extremely sidetracked with books I have to read for reviewing etc. and with other new books. I was flopping about last night moaning that I had 'nothing to read' - which is completely untrue in this house full of books - when I remembered Mavis's book.

Mavis Gallant is an extraordinary writer; her characters are achingly real and her observations on human nature are pinpoint accurate. I'm very happy to see that Granta will have an interview with her, by Jhumpa Lahiri, in their special 30th anniversary summer issue. Now, that I will be buying. She is notoriously reluctant about giving interviews, as she feels her work should speak for itself. She's right of course but, like many others, I am very curious about her. I am hoping she will be at the short story conference I'm reading at in Toronto next year (even though she has lived in Paris since about 1950). I can dream, right?

So, I read a few stories and the afterword last night, and I want to share a few quotes from the great woman herself:

'I still do not know what impels anyone sound of mind to leave dry land and spend a lifetime describing people who do not exist. If it is child's play, an extension of make-believe - something one is frequently assured by persons who write about writing - how to account for the overriding wish to do just that, only that, and consider it as rational an occupation as riding a racing bike over the Alps? Perhaps the cultural attaché at a Canadian embassy who said to me "Yes, but what do you really do?" was expressing an adult opinion.'

'The impulse to write and the stubbornness needed to keep going are supposed to come out of some drastic shaking up, early in life. There is even a term for it: the shock of change. Probably, it means a jolt that unbolts the door between perception and imagination and leaves it ajar for life, or that fuses memory and language and waking dreams.'

'The first flash of fiction arrives without words. It consists of a fixed image, like a slide or (closer still) a freeze frame, showing characters in a simple situation.'

'Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.'

Hear, hear, Mavis!

16 comments:

Totalfeckineejit said...

Paris was to be a surprise trip for Mrs EEjits 40th, but the pepes repubo is bankrupt n broke ,so nogo.The greatest photographs in the world have all been taken years ago and they are all black and white and they were all taken in Paris.Oh how I'd love to see those cafes and streets.Maybe for now I should read this book?

Uiscebot said...

The shock of change - Brilliant. Ties in with the whole moving at five thing too!

Also, that attache could do with a slap in the head. It's a question that gets asked over and over though.

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Hi Total
Well I took the photo with this post and 'oldified' it, using an online generator. But, yes, I do love Atget's pics and the Brassai ones.
You'll get to Paris with Mrs Beautiful E. Watch Ryanair like a hawk - I've got the whole family there and back for €60 before. And if you nedd any recos for cheapo hotels (shabby but central!), let me know!

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Uisce - I thought that too, re the moving house at 5-years-old phenomenon! (See Uiscebot's blog if you are reading this and are confused, btw...)

I know, I dislike talking to people who don't get that writing is what you do. I get all uncomfortable and wish I could just say I did something less complicated and odd.
I was chatting to 2 people who DON'T READ EVER at an art launch last week. It was excruciating...
When they asked what my new book was about I said 'Sex' and laughed hysterically. That shut them up!

Anti-Laureate said...

I tried to get her for Cork, but I was told her health wouldn't allow it.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Hey great phot WRW - it fooled me I thought it was from about 1910- it looks like an Alvin Langdon Coburn- ridiculous name , great potogreepher.Hope you don't keep this up though ;)

Annamay said...

Hello Nuala, great post. I loved what Mavis said 'stories can wait'. As a reader and a writer I want to digest and savour the words.
Anna May x

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Hi Pat, That means she probs won't make it to Toronto. I know Jhumpa went to Paris to interview her.

Total - I'll have to look up Alvin. DOn't know him. I have some great Paris pics taken with my real camera which I now can't seem to get B&W film for. Painful.

Anna May - thank you! I love that quote too, it makes so much sense.

BarbaraS said...

Oh you've just reminded me of my copy, which I bought on the strength of your say-so and which I read about 1/3 and also got side-tracked with the small matter of... er, the rest of my life. Now I have to get back into it... Backwards, eh? You too? Spooky.

BarbaraS said...

Order B&W film online, or specialist shops in Dublin... but you know this... :)

Tania Hershman said...

Wonderful quotes, I've never read anything by her, but will get that Granta too. I love "drastic shaking up, early in life", makes me wonder how it all happened to me. And great last quote - put the book down!!

PS See you in Toronto :)

Irish Mammy said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog. Six weeks to go !! excellent! I am due June 5th, last one was 15 days overdue I do hope that no.2 is faster at getting out.

You inspire me to read Mavis!

All the best!

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Hi B, Yeah, it's when I want it in a hurry that I run into blank faces at the local 'camera' shop.

You reading it backwards too? Hmmm. What does it say, I wonder?

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Hi T - see you in Toronto indeed! What a blast!

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Hey Irish Mammy, Welcome! You're not too far behind me. Both mine were OD too - 14 days and 10 days. I'll crack up if the same things happens this time...

Liz said...

Great writing gems - ones to savour.

And the 'drastic shake up early in life' - yes, love it - can't pin an exact 'shake up' (not literal, anyway) but plenty of metaphorical ones...oh yes! ; )