Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Howard's way

Having tackled Attwood, rucked McEwan, and kicked Rushdie into touch, I’m not one for handing out plaudits to Man Booker types. However, following his interview with James Naughtie for BBC Radio 4’s Book Club, I might give 2010 prizewinner, Howard Jacobson, a try.

Jacobson was discussing his 1999 novel The Mighty Walzer, a comic novel with a protagonist very similar to his younger, table tennis-playing self. Naughtie and the audience offered compelling evidence for why the book deserves to be read, but that wasn’t what impressed me.

The Mighty Walzer himself (photo: Jenny Jacobson)
The conversation turned to Jacobson’s early writing days, when he was struggling with a particular novel. He said that for years he thought that he wanted to be a serious, sophisticated novelist writing about the English country home, a subject beyond his knowledge and experience at that time.

Out of desperation, while feeling ‘humiliated’ about the situation in which he found himself, Jacobson just went for it – he wrote a campus novel instead of Middlemarch. In doing so, he found his natural writing voice. On penning The Mighty Walzer, Jacobson said that as soon as he started writing it he felt ashamed that he hadn’t written it already.

The not quite so mighty waltzer (photo:
How he describes the process of discovering his voice matches exactly how I feel about my own work. The novel I originally planned to write for my project is a ‘worthy’ piece set in the mid-nineteenth century. What the hell do I know about poor people in early Victorian London? Well, I’ll tell you – nothing!

So, I have a couple of weeks to determine which of my potential novels is going to offer me the best chance of writing in what might be my voice – the voice I haven’t really discovered yet. Thanks Howard.

1 comment:

  1. The ever elusive voice - still looking for mine too. I have to agree with your comments on literary fiction, some of it is just pretentious nonsense.