. . . in the Bookshop. This annual event at Heffer’s Bookshop in Cambridge was held on 15 July. It’s always good to meet readers (so there IS someone out there after all!), to chat with old crime-writing friends, and make new friends. This year was no exception. On the train on the way home I thoroughly enjoyed reading a book by L. C. Tyler that I had just bought at Bodies. I had been meaning to read something by Len since meeting him at St Hilda’s last year, and I decided to start with his first, THE HERRING SELLER’S APPRENTICE. And it is a corker. Ethelred Tressider is a crime-writer whose career is going nowhere and it’s hard to say whether, Elsie, his chocolate-guzzling, author-despising agent is a help or a hindrance. Either way this unlikely couple enjoy a collaboration of sorts, when Ethelred’s ex-wife disappears and it seems he might be accused of her murder. Part mystery, part pastiche, and part, it turns out, a rather touching love story, it is great fun and very funny.
On a wholly different note, the other book I’m enjoying at the moment is THE PARIS REVIEW INTERVIEWS, VOL. 4. This covers a wide range of authors, some of whom I know and admire, E. B. White, Marilynne Robinson, but many more that I haven’t read. Some I’ll read on the basis of these interviews, mostly notably, so far, Paul Auster. I am so much impressed by what he says about getting older. ‘Little by little the people you love begin to die. By the age of fifty, most of us are haunted by ghosts. They live inside us and we spend as much time talking to the dead as to the living. It’s hard for a young person to understand this. It’s not that a twenty year old doesn’t know he is going to die, but it’s the loss of others that so profoundly affects an older person – and you can’t know what that accumulation of losses is going to do to you until you experience it yourself.’ This seems to me so penetrating and so true. And I like too his declaration that the novel will never die: it’s ‘the only place in the world where two strangers can meet on terms of absolute intimacy. The reader and writer make the book together. No other art can do that. No other art can capture the essential inwardness of human life.’ I agree. I’ll have to read Paul Auster. Recommendations, any one?
Ted Hughes mentions this in discussing the influences on her work, when he is being interviewed in THE PARIS REVIEW INTERVIEWS VOL 3. I found this an arresting thought as I had thought of her as being a sixties figure – her work still seems so modern – but of course she died in 1963. She was thirty-one and has of course remained that age in my idea of her. It’s strange to consider that she was only a few years younger than my mother.
I thought at first that I wasn’t enjoying this volume of the Paris Review interviews as much as the first (have somehow missed the 2nd), but there are some real gems, particularly the interview with Raynond Carver. When I wrote about short stories a while ago, I didn’t mention him and I don’t know why not, because he is right up there with the best, just about my favourite short story writer in fact. What I loved most about this interview was his defence of fiction. He argues that it doesn’t have to ‘make things happen, or change the world. ‘Good fiction is partly a bringing of the news from one world to another . . . it doesn’t have to do anything. It just has to be there for the fierce pleasure we take in doing it, and the different kind of pleasure we take in reading something that’s durable and made to last, as well as beautiful in and of itself. Something that throws off these sparks – a persistent and steady glow, however dim.’ Wow! That’s just what I feel about Carver’s own work. Hard to pick out favourites but ‘Elephant’, ‘Fever,’ ‘A Small Good Thing’ and ‘Distance’ are among the stories I go back to again and again.