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Caro

John Irving

I am hearing (a little bit) an interview on our radio with John Irving.  He is being very strong about his books not being autobiographical, and even when he has used his own life in any way, it is at a great distance of time.

He is complaining about the lack of imagination of people talking about novels, who always want to see the author's life in a novel.  He said he has not been writing as a chronicler of his times.

With regard to people discussing novels now (and I think he was meaning academic people not just casual writers) he was upset (in a very measured way) that they weren't able to differentiate between a work of imagination on the part of the author and his characters, and the life and events of the author.  He said that when he was teaching literature, "Nobody asked me if Hardy had ever sold his wife or if Dickens had ever been accosted by a convict."

He said he had just written two political novels -  The Cider House Rules was one and was actually a polemical novel. I didn't quite hear which was the second one.  Maybe one set in Vietnam.  

I have liked most of the Irvings I have read a lot, though wasn't perhaps as impressed with Owen Meany as others.  I haven't read Cider House Rules, though I have seen the movie.

"It is only the laziest of readers who complain about the length of novels.  There is no excuse not to be able in a novel to make your characters sympathetic if that is your intention. You have the time in the novel."  

I could hear Himadri saying many of these things.  I don't know if you like Irving's books, Himadri, but I am sure you would approve of his attitudes as a writer.

I think if you fiddle around from here:  

http://www.radionz.co.nz/national..._to_noon_publicity/nine_to_noon87you will find this.  

Cheers, Caro.

I wonder if I have managed to do what Evie suggested here.
TheRejectAmidHair

Re: John Irving

Caro wrote:
I could hear Himadri saying many of these things.  I don't know if you like Irving's books, Himadri, but I am sure you would approve of his attitudes as a writer.


What! - You mean he's also a grumpy old git?  Very Happy

I have been meaning to read something by Irving, because he does come over well in interviews - and anyone who loves Dickens so much is fine by me!
Green Jay

This is interesting, Caro, though I haven't tried the link yet. I can see why Irving might be cross about critics (readers?) harping on about the autobiographical aspects of his writing  and he is right to defend works of the imagination or how much alchemy goes on in writing fiction. But in the novels of his I've read he does come back again and again to certain themes ( e.g. wrestling, bears, berlin zoo, nurse-mothers, being a child of an employee in a private school, for a start) which are very unusual and have known links with his own life experience. So much so that one can't but help thinking there is a big autobiograhical element, however much worked and changed.

It's always a big but for me with the well-known male US writers who do this, and some much more than Irving - to want to sympathise with their claims but also to see that they have made a career of eating up their lives and their (once) loved-ones to make their fiction. If they're so touchy about it, why keep coming back to those same things - why not transform them into something quite different? I have never managed to resolve how I feel about this. Philip Roth's very autobiographical-seeming works do make me quite uncomfortable, and yet at the same time I've enjoyed them as novels, too. Perhaps it's the level of intimate detail in Roth & Updike that make me want it to be fiction, not memory - too revealing of those depicted.

There must be female writers who do the same, but none strike me in the way that Roth and Updike do. In England, Emma Freud's first two or three novels were sparked by her own early life, but strangely I feel they were pushed far enough into fiction not to give rise to that twitchy need to know how much is "true".  

(Boy, I wish this board had a spell-check facility. I type my replies quickly then spend forever untwisting all the mis-types.)
Evie

I think there is a difference between drawing on life experiences and writing autobiographically.  I am never sure why people are so interested in the lives of authors, artists, musicians, etc - the works of art are all we need.  Writers are bound to draw on what they know and what they are interested in - some more blatantly than others - but that doesn't mean the novels are autobiographical in any more significant way.

Himadri, if you do read Irving, do take care as to what you read.  He is patchy, I think - when he is good, I think he's very good, but he can be pretty bad - even within the same book he can be patchy.  A Prayer for Owen Meany and The Cider House Rules are the only two that I would recommend of the ones I have read - but I haven't read World According to Garp, nor Hotel New Hampshire, both of which appeal.
Green Jay

Evie wrote:
I think there is a difference between drawing on life experiences and writing autobiographically.  


Yes, I agree.

Evie wrote:
I am never sure why people are so interested in the lives of authors, artists, musicians, etc - the works of art are all we need.  


Well, I can't help being a bit interested, though on one level I agree with this. I just am piqued to know a bit more about how they came to have the imagination or sensibility that they do have. Though I'm probably more interested in the lives of writers much further in the past than now, because I can gather more about the social and historical context they are writing in and from.

But I do feel I can admire works by writers & artists whom I might not admire in person, and then I'd rather not know more and contaminate my response. Perhaps I just want to know more about (some) writers I do admire. Not contemporaray ones, though. I'm happy to leave them as unknowns.

Evie wrote:
Writers are bound to draw on what they know and what they are interested in - some more blatantly than others - but that doesn't mean the novels are autobiographical in any more significant way.



I'm not really sure what you mean by the last part of that sentence. Can you say a bit more?
TheRejectAmidHair

Sure, when I am taken by a book, my curiosity about the author is aroused - I can't help wondering "What type of person would write a book like this?"

But I do feel there's something not quite right about trying to interpret a book in the context of the author's life. This is true even for blatantly autobiographical works, such as, say, Long Day's Journey Into Night. When I am trying to understand a work, I feel the author's biographical details shouldn't enter into matters at all.

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