Tuesday, 30 November 2010
EXTRACTS ARE NOT GOOD ADVERTISING FOR NOVELS
Snow. So the kids are off school and the baba is off creche. Therefore, no writing for me. Sob. So I blog.
I've been thinking a lot about the fact that extracts do not do justice to novels. Take Emma Donoghue's Room. I read an extract from it online a few months ago and thought, 'Uck'. I hated the lack of definite articles, hated the child's voice. Then my Book Club decided to read it. And I loved it. It's brilliant. The child's voice is authentic, sweet, clever. The story is tense and harrowing and gave me nightmares, but it is also hopeful and well executed.
I heard Claire Kilroy read from her novel All Summer at Cúirt a few years ago. Again, I thought, 'Not for me.' It sounded stilted and repetitive. Maybe it was her reading style. Anyway, always one to give books a chance, I bought and read it. A great book - well written and enjoyable.
As a reader of my own work, I have found reading from the novel a challenge. You have to pick an extract that will give a flavour of the tone of the book without giving away the plot. You don't want to confuse the audience with too many characters or a disjointed scene. It's hard. Every time, before I read from the novel, I panic as to what bit to read, and how much to read.
Short stories are easy to read from - you just pick one and go for it. Poems are simpler again - you get breathing space between each poem, you can mix up the mood with light and dark, funny and serious. The audience engages easier at poetry readings, I find.
Also, let's face it, some writers are simply not good at reading their own work aloud. Annie Proulx read head down, into the page when I went to see her and she made no effort to involve the audience (she's still a heroine, though.) Then, some writers are utterly convincing. I went to hear Ian McEwan read from On Chesil Beach which I found enjoyable but flawed. He read brilliantly from it - he is a seductive reader of his own work.
I guess I've learnt from all this that novels are wholes as much as short stories are wholes and should be judged only as such. Having said that, I am struggling through a novel everyone raved about and thinking 'Why? Why? Why?' as I shove it to one side to read anything else that comes to hand. Not a good sign. And am I qualified to pass judgement on it if I haven't read the whole thing?