On Novels and Novelists

Stephen King: The Rolling Stone Interview

According to interviewer Andy Greene, this interview in Rolling Stone is the first in-depth one Stephen King has given since a van accident nearly killed him 15 years ago.

Known as the master of horror, King has long wished to be known as “a writer,” not “a horror writer.” Greene asks King about the genre question early in their discussion:

I have to say this: To a degree, I have elevated the horror genre.

Few would argue with that.

It’s more respected now. I’ve spoken out my whole life against the idea of simply dismissing whole areas of fiction by saying it’s “genre” and therefore can’t be seen as literature. I’m not trying to be conceited or anything. Raymond Chandler elevated the detective genre. People who have done wonderful work really blur the line.

In this same vein, King speaks out against elitist “gray eminences in literary criticism” who, he says, don’t want to understand works that have popular appeal.

He also offers his views on life’s big issues, such as religion, God, heaven, the afterlife, and the future of humanity. And here’s what he has to say about evil: “Evil is inside us. The older I get, the less I think there’s some sort of outside devilish influence; it comes from people.”

King talks a bit here about the public reception of his books and how he feels about the movie adaptations of his novels. Here’s his answer to the question of which book he thinks is his best:

Lisey’s Story. That one felt like an important book to me because it was about marriage, and I’d never written about that. I wanted to talk about two things: One is the secret world that people build inside a marriage, and the other was that even in that intimate world, there’s still things that we don’t know about each other.

This is a long interview, and King touches on lots of other topics: politics, money, television shows, his writing process, and his drug and alcohol addiction.

And now I know why I hated The Tommyknockers so much: “The Tommyknockers  is an awful book,” says Stephen King.

Fuminori writes noir, but not as we know it

Fuminori Nakamura has won many of the major literary prizes in Japan and is quickly making the same kind of impact in the English-speaking world. His third novel to be translated into English, “Last Winter, We Parted,” is out now. It’s a tense, layered story centered around a young writer commissioned by his editor to write about photographer Yudai Kiharazaka, in prison for murdering two women.

According to this article in The Japan Times, Fuminori’s newly translated novel:

is full of stylistic flourishes and structural experimentation. There are textual games throughout the book, as it switches from archived letters to internal monologue to reported speech to notes from a diary and chains of tweets. It’s a book that keeps its secrets until the last page, playing games with the reader. Structurally it’s a Mobius strip.

His characters seldom have a backstory because, as the author explains, “My characters are often people who are adrift in the world.” He’s interested both in characters who separate themselves from the world and in what happens when those characters come together.

“I think of myself as writing pure literature,” he says. “I’m interested in the secret depths of humanity. I focus much more on describing the psychological state. I think that by writing from the side of human darkness, I might be able to write about those secret depths.”

This novel also explores the nature of creativity, art, and literature because “art does have a terrible side,” he says.

Elena Ferrante: the global literary sensation nobody knows

Elena Ferrante is an Italian novelist who was born in or near Naples. She seems once to have been married; she may have lived in Greece; she appears to be a mother. Or so we think. In our self-promoting, Twitter-saturated age, Ferrante is an outlier, an author who wishes to remain totally private. She refuses face-to-face interviews, has only given a handful of written ones (a few of her letters have been published), and makes no personal appearances; no photographs of her have been published. In 1991, shortly before the publication of her style-defining first book, Troubling Love, Ferrante sent a letter to her editor, explaining that she would not be promoting it: “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t.” Anonymity, she thought, would preserve “a space of absolute creative freedom”, a freedom all the more necessary because her books stick “a finger in certain wounds I have that are still infected”.

Even though I don’t have to feel guilty about not having heard of this writer, I do begin to feel guilty about all the titles I must put on my ever-growing list of books-to-be-read.

The Neapolitan series, which is Ferrante’s most ambitious project to date, represents an evolution in her work. Three of the expected four novels have been published in English: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, and, now, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. Taken together, the novels span some 50 years, chronicling the life-long friendship between Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco. With them, Ferrante has written both a capacious story of Elena’s coming of age – Elena, who has become a novelist, is the narrator – and a social novel explicitly dealing with Italian politics and history where the earlier work confined itself to internal psychic dramas.