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!