Recent articles on novels and novelists
Antonia Malchik writes of the role of setting in Karin Salvalaggio’s mystery novels:
The northwest Montana brought to life in Karin Salvalaggio’s mystery novels has a great deal in common with Hansel and Gretel’s unkind world. Silent, pine-filled mountains offer a hefty dose of frisson, and remind us that in the best mysteries the role of place as character is essential but subtle. From the national parks that form the setting for every one of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon mysteries to the idyllic Three Pines village full of discomfiting undertones in Louise Penny’s acclaimed Inspector Gamache series, literary mystery novels in particular rely on place to create atmosphere and challenge their protagonists.
Writer Annette Gendler takes issue with Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s project, which he calls an autobiographical novel. He calls the work autobiographical because he uses the real names of people in his life and writes about actual events that have happened to them. But he also calls it a novel, which suggests that what he’s writing may—or may not—be fictional. Gendler objects to this blurring of the line between fiction and truth, between fiction and memoir:
His novel is about him, his wife, his kids, his friends, and other relatives: real people using real names. He’s telling stories not only about himself that might be true or not, but he’s doing the same with the people in his life. None of these real people has any recourse over what’s being said about them because, after all, it’s a novel. A novelist is not going to be raked over the coals — like James Frey was — for inventing or embellishing facts.
In a good companion piece to Gendler’s, novelist Rufi Thorpe insists that all writers, including novelists, steal details from their lives:
I had always wondered, as a student of literature, why so many authors made a point of how completely non-autobiographical their work was. I had thought it was because they were proud of their imaginations. But the older I get, the more I suspect it was to ward off the hurt feelings of every person they had ever known.
I do not write plots that are autobiographical, or even biographical of the people I have known. But I do steal details. I steal them obsessively. In fact, it is possible that my entire career writing fiction is in fact a fanatical love affair with detail. I steal houses, bowls on counters, perfumes and scents, phrases, anecdotes, realizations, jokes, car accidents, dogs, meals, clothes, plants. It is a metaphysical form of kleptomania.
On the 100th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Karl Ove Knausgaard writes about the work’s significance:
What appeared at the time to be unprecedented about the novel seems more mundane to us today, whereas what then came across as mundane now seems unprecedented. Joyce’s novel remains vital, in contrast to almost all other novels published in 1916, because he forcefully strived toward an idiosyncratic form of expression, a language intrinsic to the story he wanted to tell, about the young protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, and his formative years in Dublin, in which uniqueness was the very point and the question of what constitutes the individual was the issue posed.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown