14 May 2013

Here and Now, a correspondance between Paul Auster and John Coetzee

A note of apology and some anger
I realise that it is now quite some time since I wrote anything on this blog. To regular readers, I must apologize: work has been quite intense over the past few months for me. Occasional readers will probably not mind too much. As for the spammers who have now started to invade the comments section of this blog with their clumsily phrased and stupid pretexts for hooking unsuspecting readers into their various web activites, would they please piss off!

And now for the real article.

I have just read, in almost one go, this shortish (about 250 pages) book which contains correspondance between two famous authors, one American, living in New York (Paul Auster), and one South African, living in Australia (J.M. Coetzee). Here and Now (that is the title) is always interesting, often extremely stimulating, occasionally funny and also moving. Two sharp minds striking sparks off each other and with a growing friendship that is quite patent as one moves through this correspondence that covers the years 2008 to 2011. As witness to the extent of the friendship, Coetzee, who is clearly the more reserved of the two, starts off by signing his epistles to Auster with "all good wishes", but finishes with a "yours fraternally".

There are too many good things in this book to name them all, but the sincerity and spontaneity of the tone, and the authors' capacities to jump from one topic to another whilst remaining interesting are remarquable characteristics throughout. The subjects covered are as varied as the authors' centres of interest: writing and reading, naturally enough, but also sports (both watching and playing), political situations here and then, financial crises, friendship, eating habits, travel, the significance of street names, sex and love, music and films.....

Reading this correspondence, I felt pangs of envy not to have had such an opportunity myself, to be able to build a male friendship throught this epistolary means, as well as through the quite regular meetings that the two manage to contrive, together with their respective wives and despite the distance that separates them. The authors do not always totally agree on everything, but they share viewpoints on a wide range of subjects and manifestly stimulate one another with their points of view and observations. There are constant twists and turns in their minds as ideas flare up and then fizzle out. Reading this book is like sitting in on a fascinating conversation that lasts all day. And indeed I managed to read it during a day-long journey from Bratislava to Paris involving two buses, two planes and some time in two different airports. Time is never "wasted" if you have a good book with you!

I was struck by one passage, amongst others, in which Auster talks about a particular aspect of novel writing, namely setting the scene for the action. He says at one point, taking the reader's perspective and the example of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice which contains almost no visual descriptions: "But how can you see a room in a book if the author doesn't tell you what is in it? You therefore make up your own room, or graft the scene onto a remembered room. This explains why each reader of a novel reads a different book from every other reader of that novel. It is an active engagement, and each mind is continually producing its own images." 

I feel that this has an clear echo in my professional field of wine tasting. Each taster has his own experience of a wine, which is precisely why it can be very hard to get people to agree about the flavours and impressions of a given wine.

so read on ......