I essentially completed my novel, Tranquility in Sorrento, Tasso’s town, circa April 2013. Unlike Joseph Conrad, who, when finishing Lord Jim one early morning, shared a piece of chicken with his cat, I couldn’t hear my cat’s insistent calls to breakfast: he was thousands of miles away. Moreover, there was no feeling of triumph, merely relief floating in a sea of fatigue and alcohol. I started this thing in 1979, ignorant of vast swathes of modern fiction, an ignorance that cannot be overcome, perhaps only palliated, by reading 24/7. By 2013, having worked on it in time to spare and short periods of unemployment, I am not anxious to consult it again in a hurry. Yet Mario Puzo must be right in saying that the secret of writing is re-writing. Words are the chisel by which we form ideas from the lump in our heads.
Then come the alien ceremonies of touting for positive feedback, acclaim, money. And mastering the Noh system of awards, reserved for the very few. “Competitions are set by the people who win them” says a character in Frederic Raphael’s The Glittering Prizes and while that makes no sense, it makes perfect sense. I mention awards because this week Richard Flanagan won the Man Booker prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The Varnished Culture has not yet reviewed it: in due course maybe; the only book of his I’ve read is Gould’s Book of Fish, which is not bad at all. But by what criteria does one thing win awards and another doesn’t? No one can credibly say.
As self-crowned King of the Perennially Ignored, I offer this shortlist of writers who never received a Booker or Nobel prize: Virgil, Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Austen, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Fitzgerald, Céline, di Lampedusa, Nabokov. Feel better now, my subjects?
Probably not, given recent winners….