These men dared to write vast superpower novels about the whole of society. His own smaller efforts were symptomatic of Britain’s decline: its aura of filthy pub carpets, its morbidly obese children, phone booths “slobberingly coated with thick red paint”, London “like the insides of an old plug”. Purpose had been lost along with the empire, and under Thatcher, that old witch, civility and civilisation had fallen apart. Nothing but weak left-liberalism remained to confront the ruins; that, and the scathing onslaught of his prose.
Getting rid of the fags helped the pub carpets. And Thatcher did Wales (see previous post).
The England that awaits the young Mundy is a rain-swept cemetery for the living dead powered by a forty-watt bulb.
Absolute friends, John le Carré
TYLER COWEN: What’s a book you can no longer stand to read? For instance, I find it very difficult to now read Dostoevsky. I don’t think he’s a terrible author, but it somehow doesn’t click with me. It fascinated me in high school, but now it just falls flat.
RUNDELL: I still love Dostoevsky, but I can’t read Dickens anymore. I used to be wildly in love with the atmospheres that he conjured of London and smoke and smog, but I now find very vividly visible the fact that he was getting paid per word.
I used to love Dickens, often thinking the books too short. I recently reread A Tale of Two Cities, only to find the magic had left me. Even within a lifetime the language chafes.
Our laws are unfortunately not widely known, they are the closely guarded secret of the small group of nobles who govern us. We like to believe that these old laws are scrupulously adhered to, but it remains a vexing thing to be governed by laws one does not know. I am not thinking here of various questions of interpretation and the disadvantages that stem from only a few individuals and not the population as a whole being involved in their interpretation. These disadvantages may in any case be overstated. The laws a(er all are so old, centuries have worked on their interpretation, even their interpretation has in a sense become codi)ed, and while there is surely room still for interpretation, it will be quite limited. Moreover, the nobility has no reason to bend the law against us, if only because the laws were in their favour from the very beginning, the nobility being outside the law, and that is why the laws seem to have been given exclusively into their hands. There is wisdom in this disposition – who could question the wisdom of the old laws? – but it remains vexing for the rest of us. Presumably that is not to be avoided…
Franz Kafka. The Problem of Our Laws’ – ‘Zur Frage der Gesetze’ – translated by Michael Hofmann. Link
Via John Naughton
”Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.” Anthony Trollope
He would know. According to some reports, he paid a servant an extra £5 a year to wake him up at 5:30 am every morning and get him a cup of coffee. Trollope would then work on a novel for three hours. The first half hour was spent reading over what he had already written, and after that he wrote at a pace of 250 words per 15 minutes. So, over three hours, he would write approximately 2,500 words.
And he did that while holding down a serious job in the Post Office. Infuriating, isn’t it? [JN]
I read Malcolm Bradbury’s satire The History Man many decades ago and loved it as a satire on university life (and which demonstrated to me why medical schools and universities were unlikely bedfellows).
The History Man is Malcolm Bradbury’s masterpiece, the definitive campus novel and one of the most influential novels of the 1970s. Funny, disconcerting and provocative, Bradbury brilliantly satirizes a world of academic power struggles as his anti-hero seduces his away around campus. (Amazon’s brief).
I have forgotten much of the detail, but not how fine a novel I thought it was, nor how funny I found it. But for every great thesis, there is an antithesis. Here is one:
Ignorance of history is a badge of honour in Silicon Valley. “The only thing that matters is the future,” self-driving-car engineer Anthony Levandowski told The New Yorker in 2018… I don’t even know why we study history,” Levandowski said in 2018.
I know which past — and future — I would prefer.
The fuller quote is:
She [Sigrid Nunez] was already well into her next novel by the time “The Friend” climbed bestseller lists. “What Are You Going Through”, out now, is not exactly a sequel, she says, but “these books belong together.” Both are “preoccupied with death”. And with ageing: “At a certain age, there is only one subject.”
The night must be drawing in.
The sudden success of Sigrid Nunez. Economist.
John le Carré is one of my favourite authors. There is a wonderful sense of rebellion, coupled with both dismay and hope in his fiction (and non-fiction) writings. Here are a few lines from his speech in Stockholm on 30 January 2020 when he received the Olaf Palme award.
How would Palme wish to be remembered? Well, by this for a start. For his life, not his death. For his humanism, courage, and the breadth and completeness of his humanist vision. As the voice of truth in a world hell-bent on distorting it. By the inspiring, inventive enterprises undertaken yearly by young people in his name.
Is there anything I would like to add to his epitaph? A line by May Sarton that he would have enjoyed: One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being.
And how would I like to be remembered? As the man who won the 2019 Olof Palme prize will do me just fine.
As a human being, and a citizen of this country, I deplore almost everything that’s going on in public life,” Mr Herron says. “As a novelist with a bent towards the satirical, it’s a gift.
Mick Herron quoted in the Economist.