Private: Kureishi, Hornby, O’Hagan on Peck, Baldwin, Morrison, Coupland, Tartt

Hanif Kureishi, author of the film My Beautiful Laundrette and the novel Intimacy, talks with Emma Brockes about his latest screenplay, The Mother, which concerns the sex life of a woman in her seventies, and about racism in England. Brockes recounts:

Kureishi was arrested, recently, for a driving offence and taken to a police station. “The policeman said to me, ‘Racial background?’ And he looked me up and down. ‘Of Mediterranean appearance,’ he said. I said, ‘That’s not a true description of me.’ He said, ‘It’s not your opinion, it’s my opinion.’ I said, ‘It’s not really a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of fact.’ And he underlined it: ‘Of Mediterranean appearance. And I was really offended. You think, this fucker can write anything or say anything; it doesn’t matter who I am, he can just do this. Imagine what it’s like for people who are really in the shit.”

Last week, at a series hosted by Zadie Smith, Nick Hornby gave the crowd a preview of his novel-in-progress:

Reading from a novel tentatively titled Kings and Queens of Shambles, Hornby told the story of three people who meet when they’re all trying to kill themselves by jumping from the same roof.

(Via The Literary Saloon.)

In the weekend’s New York Times Book Review, Andrew O’Hagan ostensibly reviewed Dale Peck’s What We Lost, but also used the space to indulge in some broad stereotyping about gay writers. “‘What We Lost:’ Varieties of Manhood,” the piece is titled. And despite some qualifying language, it’s clear that in O’Hagan’s view, on the manhood scale, a gay man ranks well below the (assumed heterosexual) man who procreates. In the opening paragraph, he muses:

Nobody likes to say so, but when gay men write about fatherhood they are often ruminating about manhood. The reasons for this should be obvious: gay men’s experience of fatherhood generally stops at having, or having had, a father, and being a father oneself can usually be considered an absent possibility. An absence isn’t the same as a loss, and, to a great many, not fathering children may be one of life’s happier outcomes. Nevertheless it is true that some gay writers experience the question in complicated ways, as if their sexuality implied an explicit foreshortening of their own presence.

Having unburdened himself of this thesis, O’Hagan proceeds to make some assumptions about Peck’s family life and relationship with his father. Reviewing a nonfiction work (What We Lost imagines several years in Peck’s father’s childhood) is always a tricky business because by its nature the review considers the writer’s personal life, but in this case the reviewer seems to venture well outside of the text and into the realm of speculation about what makes Peck tick:

The book dwells on such progenitive matters, on the different Dale Pecks before the author and ultimately — though quite invisibly — on the fact that there will be no more Dale Pecks to come after him…. It is not really a book about his father’s farming episode at all, but a rather oblique account of Dale Peck’s grapplings with the notion of male authority. Peck wants to get closer to his father, so imagines him at his most vulnerable, as a lonely child in a strange environment.

I haven’t read Peck’s current book, or his works prior, but the assumptions O’Hagan makes about Peck’s feelings and motivations do far less to illuminate the book under review than to show us what manhood is to O’Hagan: impregnating a woman and raising one’s progeny. Indeed, in a recent Slate diary entry O’Hagan discussed his own pending fatherhood.

The review is all the more disappointing because I’ve been an admirer of O’Hagan’s writing (see his Slate diaries or his story in the Granta’s “Best of the Young British Novelists 2003” issue for brief samples). Addendum: see The Old Hag for a much more concise reaction, with which I agree fully.

I mentioned recently that I think James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain depicts charismatic Christianity more accurately than any other novel of his time. (I feel qualified to judge because my mother once created and declared herself the pastor of just such a church–except hers was housed in a warehouse for most of its existence.)

For the Guardian, Douglas Field revisits the Baldwin novel, finds much to admire, and considers the writer’s relationship with Christianity later in life:

Rereading Go Tell It on the Mountain in the light of Baldwin’s later sustained attacks on the church (particularly The Fire Next Time, 1963), it’s clear that he was deeply critical of religion; and yet I’m not convinced that his work became more secular. The church never gave up its hold on Baldwin, who was preaching in a Pentecostal church at 13, but he gave it up to write. As late as 1985 he talked of how “once I had left the pulpit, I had abandoned or betrayed my role in the community”….

[W]hile aggressively critical in places of Pentecostalism’s rigid distinctions between the saved and sinners, the spirit and the flesh, Baldwin’s novel is tinged too with nostalgia and wonder. The description of John’s conversion as he wrestles on the threshing floor is a testimony to the church’s ability to destroy and renew: “John had not felt the wound, but only the agony… only the fear; and lay here, now, helpless, screaming, at the very bottom of darkness.”

A profile of Toni Morrison recalls various reactions to Beloved:

For AS Byatt it was an American masterpiece. Margaret Atwood pronounced it a triumphant hair-raiser written in prose “by turns rich, graceful, eccentric, rough, lyrical, sinuous, colloquial”. But Stanley Crouch, better known as a US jazz critic, loathed it as a “blackface holocaust novel”, written to enter a “martyr ratings contest”. While for some her fiction is wilfully obscure, others see her as heir to William Faulkner – with innovations drawn from African-American culture. For Edmund White, she brought “psychological and narrative complexity and subtlety to the black experience”.

I guess nobody told the Love review copyeditor at the Guardian that Toni Morrison is female.

Douglas Coupland is interviewed about some of his favorite books and has harsh words for people with ragtag libraries:

The thing about books is you have to have a good place to take care of them. You will notice the absence of light in here. People who have book collections where the spines are all weathered? It’s just really creepy. It’s kind of like Book Library 101.

He’s probably one of those people who could carry a book around on the subway for two weeks and keep it in pristine condition. I’m the opposite. I put a book in my bag for five minutes and it looks like it was mangled by wild dogs. (Erhm, but don’t worry, Emma, all of the books you’ve let me borrow are in, um, perfect condition.)

The Guardian features “This Much I Know,” a very brief piece of short fiction by Donna Tartt.