Posted by: miss cellany | March 7, 2006

Keeping the light house

I have been reading some of the Jeanette Winterson website. After finishing her latest novel very quickly, I thought I would see what the woman had to say.
In one article from Le Monde in 2002, she is quoted as saying that “ genuine artists” always end up attempting to change established forms, and that people who write in a more conventional way ie, Novels, are reproducing the past out of laziness. “…it meant something in the nineteenth century, the weaving of characters around a story with a beginning a middle and an end, but now…”

This kind of thinking – this kind of blinkered self-aggrandisement – it reminds me of a certain kind of art student; that brashness coupled with an arrogance which makes the rest of us recoil and want to distance ourselves.

The parts of her novel, Lighthouse Keeping, that I enjoyed were the parts which most closely resembled the traditional form of the novel. The other parts I read to get to the parts which I enjoyed. I felt the novel would have been more successful if she had dared to ignore her ego a bit more.

The thing about Jeanette Winterson though, is that she DOES do characters and story very well when she chooses to. But I get the impression from reading her, that it is something she is battling against, this human desire to tell a story with a beginning, middle and an end, however obliquely she might approach it. With Lighthouse Keeping, I really had the impression that here was a good novel struggling to get out of its trappings, out of its pretension of trying to present itself as something which was pushing the envelope.

The so-called hybrid literary space mentioned in the Le Monde piece, likened to a collage is more like a scrapbook of ideas, (It reminds me of that ‘6os cut and paste thing and I can’t remember the name of it.)

The thing about the ‘traditional’ form of the novel, its appeal, to people who read (and write) novels I think, is that it taps into something instinctive, something basically human. Fashions within that form will continue to come and go, but I think it[the traditional novel] will survive. I would strongly contest Winterson’s notion that people write in a particular way because they are “lazy”. It implies that writing a novel with a beginning, middle, and end is the easiest thing in the world, which of course it isn’t. The way you write and the form you choose is always personal, but you shouldn’t let it obliterate and/or alienate your reader. Otherwise you may as well just write a journal and hide it under your bed.

And I think it is quite telling that on her website, Winterson refuses to discuss the books she reads and enjoys because the information would be taken down and “used against me”.


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