Category: literature

Auster and Aslam

Nadeem Aslam coverPaul Auster Man in the DarkThe latest podcast I’ve produced for Faber has just gone up on their site. In it I talk to novelists Paul Auster and Nadeem Aslam about the books they published this autumn. You can find the podcast here.

In Auster’s book, Man in the Dark, an ageing literary critic, August Brill, spends a night imagining a dystopian future in which America is embroiled in a civil war as a way of distracting him from the ghosts that trouble his sleep, not least of which is the death of his granddaughter’s boyfriend in Iraq. Read More

Tiger triumphant

Aravind Adiga cover detailCongratulations to Aravind Adiga for his Booker win last night for his debut novel, The White Tiger. For those of you who missed it, you can find my interview with Aravind from earlier this year here. And if you want to sample his novel, you can hear him reading from it here and here.

Adiga decorative

Andrew Sean Greer on San Francisco in the 50s

Andrew Sean GreerMy latest podcast for Faber & Faber is now available on their site and on iTunes. In it I talk to American novelist Andrew Sean Greer about his latest book, The Story of a Marriage. It’s a beautifully realized depiction of what happens to the relationship between two people when a third appears on the scene – but in almost every way unexpected. “We think we know the ones we love,” the book begins, but it turns out that our knowledge is often imperfect.

The book is full of surprises without straining credibility and it’s also a marvellous depiction of the fog-bound suburbs of San Francisco during the Korean War, when people were dealing with a new war while still living in the shadow of the previous one. In the interview, Andrew also tells me how he became a dog owner…

First Four for Faber

Over the last few months I’ve been producing a new podcast for Faber and Faber, which you can find on their recently relaunched website here. In the first four podcasts, which are now available on iTunes, I talk to – among others – Hanif Kureishi, Peter Carey, Sebastian Barry (pictured left) and Junot Díaz.

The podcast will be a regular monthly feature of the Faber site and there will be “specials” every so often too. I’m hoping to interview Paul Auster about his latest novel, Man in the Dark, in the autumn, for example.

The White Tiger’s Cautionary Tale

Aravind Adiga cover“I see this in a sense as a cautionary tale. What my narrator is is a white tiger – he’s unusual for his time. Very few servants in India actually kill their masters and take their money…”

Aravind Adiga’s debut novel was recently selected for the Booker long-list, so I thought I’d make available this interview which I did with him earlier this year in London. Click here to listen to the interview.
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13. ‘An extended passport application’ – the poetry of Michael Hofmann

Michael Hofmann
“It’s almost as though my poetry is an extended passport application… It’s an attempt to be naturalized. I think I’ve failed to be naturalized and therefore there is this German residue about things. It’s something I feel haunted by…”

I’m delighted that the first poet to appear on Podularity is Michael Hofmann. I’ve known Michael for several years and greatly admire his work as a translator, but his poetry has been a comparatively recent – and very pleasurable – discovery for me.

George Szirtes, reviewing Michael’s Selected Poems in the Guardian recently, said of his work:

‘A Michael Hofmann poem is now a rare, strange, much valued item. Strange because, at first glance, many of the poems seem no more than frayed notes concerning a mood between depression and despair; but then something in that fraying catches at you, either some odd shift in register, or maybe just a sense that as your eyes are blithely passing over the words suddenly a hole has opened up beneath them and you are falling through the language, into a world of cries.’

Selected PoemsIn the programme we talk about Michael’s relationship with the German and English languages and how he moves between the two; his relationship with his late father, the German novelist, Gert Hofmann, which forms the explicit or implicit subject matter of much of his poetry: ‘these two men meet up to divide the world between them and this is how it goes: my father gets prose in German and I get poetry in English, and we each go away feeling happy’ and his fondness for depicting interiors, which in his poetry appear as ‘one’s exoskeleton, the place where one hangs one’s trophies or displays one’s wounds’.

In the course of the podcast he also reads several pieces from his recently published Selected Poems.

11. ‘Gonged on Missy’

‘You always suppose you’re the heroine in the story of your life; the day you discover you’re the monster, it’s apt to come as a surprise’
Dol McQueen, ‘flash-girl’, 1862

Chris HannanChris Hannan‘s dazzlingly accomplished first novel, Missy , is published today in the UK (in the US, it comes out in June from FSG). I met Chris last week at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh to talk about making the transition from writing plays to writing novels, how he created the voice of a young American prostitute in a silver-rush boom-town, and how aspects of his own life fed into what seems at first the least autobiographical of first novels.

The ‘missy’ of the title by the way is not a character in the book, but the liquid opium to which its narrator, Dol McQueen, is addicted.

Missy cover
Dol McQueen is one of the “flash-girls” who forsake the fleshpots of San Francisco to ply their trade in Nevada’s Virginia City, where men are rumored to be newly rich and ripe for plucking. Dol is herself seduced by a blissful hit of liquid opium, illicitly acquired by a pimp named Pontius, who impulsively entrusts his stash to Dol for safekeeping.

‘Gangs of hired thugs keep materialising, engaged to retrieve the fugitive opium and return it to the Chinese gang boss from whom Pontius stole it. The efforts of Dol and her cohorts to elude their pursuers suggest a black-comic gloss on Cormac McCarthy’s doom-laden No Country for Old Men.’

Kirkus Review

‘This wildly entertaining first novel from Scottish playwright Hannan takes place in the down and dirty Wild West and features one of the most bombastic, fantastic heroines in recent memory. Nineteen-year-old Dol McQueen is an intelligent, strong-willed hooker with a weakness for liquid opium, or “missy.” “Sometimes when I’m gonged,” says Dol, “I have an immense feeling inside me that I can govern Chaos.” And chaos is just what she gets when a crate of choice opium lands under her bed, stashed there by a grisly pimp called Pontius who warns her to keep quiet. Dol carries on with her business and gets increasingly attached to that fortune beneath her bed.

‘The real pandemonium is unleashed when a spooky, brutal gang enlisted by the rightful owners of the opium arrives in town bringing mayhem. Dol-along with her mother, Pontius and the opium-flees into the desert, the escape slowed by lack of water, mule-pinching Indians and Dol’s withdrawal from her missy, an experience that leaves her clearheaded but vulnerable to the truth about what she has become. Hannan nails the setting, crafts a sizzling plot and, with Dol, gives readers a lovable, larger-than-life star.

‘A rib-tickling picaresque romp with a heart of gold that even a hellfire-and-damnation preacher would warm to.’

Publishers Weekly

Here are links to the books and films Chris discusses in our interview:

Mark Twain: Roughing It

Marion Goldman: Gold Diggers and Silver Miners

Red River

McCabe and Mrs Miller

Aravind Adiga on ‘The autobiography of a half-baked Indian’

Aravind Adiga coverThat’s how the narrator of Aravind Adiga’s debut novel reckons he should entitle his life story. Adiga’s narrator, Balram Halwai, believes he is half-baked because, like so many in India, he’s been unable to finish his schooling, and so his head is an ‘odd museum’ of half-cooked ideas. This is the head the reader is given a guided tour of over the course of 300 often bitingly satirical pages. Adam Lively in The Times called the book ‘extraordinary and brilliant’ and another critic said it was ‘the perfect antidote to lyrical India’. Balram is not the sort of character who is normally given centre stage in Indian novels. He comes from a low caste in an almost feudal village and seems destined for a life as a downtrodden servant, abused by his affluent, rapidly (and often comically) westernizing masters. Yet over the course of several nights, Balram relates the steps he took to escape the ‘rooster coop’ of Indian society and turn himself into a ‘self-made entrepreneur’. He offers the wisdom he has gained (‘free of charge’) to the addressee of his story, the Chinese premier, since Balram has seen the future and realizes it lies in China and India (‘now that our erstwhile master, the white-skinned man, has wasted himself through buggery, mobile phone usage, and drug abuse.’) A week or so ago, I interviewed Aravind Adiga at Atlantic’s offices. The interview will be on the Atlantic Books website shortly, but in the mean time, here is a short taster from our conversation, in which Aravind explains how his novel differs from just about every other Indian novel you have read. ‘I see this in a sense as a cautionary tale. What my narrator is is a white tiger – he’s unusual for his time. Very few servants in India actually kill their masters and take their money. ‘The endurance of the servant class in India is heroic, but I see signs that this endurance may be coming to an end and the family bonds that held people to their servile posts may be fraying. ‘And so what my narrator has done today may be something that more and more do on a larger scale in the future…’ The book has not yet been published in India, but it will be soon. It will be interesting to see the reaction it provokes…

3. One man and his dog

Tintin and the Secret of LiteratureThis week’s podcast features Tom McCarthy, author of Tintin and the Secret of Literature. Tom has recently come to prominence as a novelist and his book, Remainder, has been acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. But in Tintin and the Secret of Literature he shows he also possesses a sharp (and playful) critical mind into the bargain.

Tom’s starting point is to ask whether the hugely successful Tintin cartoons are also great literature, and in attempting to answer that question he gets to the heart of what literature actually is. Along the way he also examines a few skeletons in Hergé’s closet. But the book is above all an immensely entertaining exploration of the Tintin books, which will make you want to read them all again.

“With a code-breaking ingenuity worthy of the boy reporter himself, McCarthy reveals Hergé’s crisp, graphic style to be a complex circuitry of forgery and artifice, corporeal obsession and psycho-sexual intrigue; sparking leads and crackling connections that wire the Belgian cartoonist’s work deep into the matrix of 20th-century art and philosophy.”

Dan Fox, Frieze Magazine