My first interview of 2019 is up: with Alexis M. Smith in Moss. It’s long and juicy and a firehose of opinion.
I’m curious about your aversion to “It Books” and whether you find literary-novels-of-the-moment depressing because they avoid the kind of tension and conflict we’re talking about here? Is that why they seem depressing? Because they don’t engage in the urgency of action and violence/vulnerability and fear?
They make me impatient because they don’t engage in anything meaningful in a wider context. The big wide world and the people in it matters. Really, who apart from you gives a shit about the ethics of you having an adulterous affair? Or your inner conflict over whether or not you should feel bad about not having a baby? Or whether your dinner party will turn out well enough to be discussed positively in your social circle? No one will die one way or another. The world won’t change. You probably won’t even lose your job or home. It feels pointless. That kind of insipidity makes me want to reach into the book to, say, the privileged, self-absorbed drugged-up deliberately somnambulistic protagonist, pour cold water on her as she wallows in her own high-thread-count existential misery, and yell, Grow the fuck up!
A lot of It novels are depressing. They’re depressing because they focus not on horror (or terror or lust or joy or hunger) but on angst, anxiety, and self-worthlessness. Anxiety and angst are not major, free-flowing emotions; they are a sign of internal dithering.
Think of a novel’s premise as an analogue of a self-defense situation. Fear sends a message as clear as a bell: This situation is dangerous; get out now! Anxiety is about second-guessing yourself: It’s not really dangerous, is it? Surely not. I know him; he’s my husband’s friend. I must be wrong… When a character is constantly in that self-questioning mode, it makes me as a reader impatient and irritated. Why don’t they believe themselves and just fucking get out?
There are all kinds of rants in there, as well as some serious stuff about Aud and Hild and what makes a novel good. But I admit, I like the unleashed stuff best.
We know so little of Hild’s time […] the role of women in the so-called Dark Ages could not remotely resemble the bullshit we’ve been fed in which we were merely rape toys and/or brood mares and/or warty old wise women of the wood. Because otherwise how could Hild—born the second daughter of a murdered father, with zero power and influence in the regime of petty warlords styling themselves kings of a feuding, bloody, aliterate, heathen culture—end up counselor to kings of proto-states with a literate, Christian bureaucracy; a teacher and leader of bishops; head of a religious foundation famous for its influence and hosting of the Synod which changed the course of British history; and still known fourteen hundred years (nearly a millennium and half!) later for her power, wisdom, and learning?
So if you fancy a diversion on this cold Monday here’s 5,000 words of unexpurgated book talk.
5 thoughts on “My new favourite interview”
Great interview. I also am a constant rereader of O’Brian (as we’ve discussed), and Lord of the Rings, which I’ve reread maybe 75 times, although not much since the films. I also endlessly reread Antonia Forest, Elfrida Vipont, Georgette Heyer, and Elizabeth McMaster Bujold. Sitting in the genres of teen school fiction, historical romance, and science fiction/romance, I think I’m reassured by the presence of possibility and growth, particularly when sexualised violence doesn’t drive the narrative – I grew up with them, except for O’Brian and Bujold.
I’m about to reread Aud, and Hild, and So Lucky… (after a bout of Dick Francis, whose characters tend to get things done too, albeit with an overwhelming male focus, and male violence directed mostly at men…).
I’m looking forward to Menewood, and a future Aud novel!
I haven’t read Dick Francis for years! Thanks for the reminder
This is a great interview; I’m enjoying it very much! Some specific thoughts:
1. I found this perspective very interesting indeed; I don’t think I’ve ever parsed the phenomenon of the quote-unquote literary novel in this way, and I feel recognition as I read your words:
“…[It novels are] depressing because they focus not on horror (or terror or lust or joy or hunger) but on angst, anxiety, and self-worthlessness. Anxiety and angst are not major, free-flowing emotions; they are a sign of internal dithering…”
2. I’m also very interested in the following statement (which sharpens my appreciation of the character of Hild, whom I loved already):
“I like fiction about people who are clear… their emotions need to be clear; they need to know how they feel; they have to decide what to do. They can be wrong—in fact it’s better if they learn, grow, change their minds, fuck up, etc.—but oh god they need to be clear. I hate characters who dither.”
I wonder if some of the value, for other readers, in “characters who dither” is that readers see themselves in these characters’ preoccupations with their unresolved internal conflicts. If so, I wonder how often that’s a validating and useful thing for the reader, or whether it tends toward encouraging them to choose by not choosing. I don’t have an answer; I’m just interested in this new layer, and looking forward to watching where my readerly thoughts and reactions go with it.
3. *claps enthusiastically*
“All I knew was that the role of women in the so-called Dark Ages could not remotely resemble the bullshit we’ve been fed in which we were merely rape toys and/or brood mares and/or warty old wise women of the wood.”
| *claps some more*
I honestly couldn’t begin to guess what value other readers take from angst and indecision. But it makes me want to hurt something.
Totally agree about the ‘internal dithering’ and your feeling of wanting to tell the characters in novels to ‘Grow the fuck up’! Thanks for checking out my site, that led me to yours and I loved this post and will track down ‘Hild’ and the whole interview. Cheers fro Oz!
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