Two Q&As

Following on from Anna MacDonald’s review of Southerly by Jorge Consiglio, published earlier this month at Splice, I spoke to Consiglio’s translator, Cherilyn Elston, about the pleasures and challenges of bringing his work into English:

What challenges did you face as a translator in retaining this quality of the stories, rendering so much of their power only through implication? Or are there features of Consiglio’s style that made it not so great a challenge?

This was one of the features that attracted me to the stories, but it was also a real challenge. The language of the stories is very delicate, yet at the same it expertly builds this tension and underlying violence without resorting to conventional narrative techniques. Gabriela Cabezón Cámera, one of Consiglio’s contemporaries (and also now published in translation by Charco Press) has referred to this as the Consiglian narrative logic, a logic which goes against the tide and challenges the conventional sequential logic of a story. As Consiglio himself says, he constructs his narratives through careful attention to syntax and sound as generators of meaning. Therefore, the sense of each sentence, each paragraph, is constructed via a complex logic related more to imagery or qualities that we would consider poetic or lyrical.

And then, following on from David Hebblethwaite’s review of Chris Power’s Mothers, which went up this week at Splice, I put a few questions to Power about the art of the short story, both in theory and in practice:

I’m very interested in close third [person voice], this voice that is separate from the character, but so close that it never reveals anything that the character himself or herself isn’t aware of; in fact so close that the character’s perception and manner even tints the neutrality of the narrative voice. The calibration of that voice was very important to me when I was writing these stories. Get it right and you’re with the character, but as you say you’ve got some crucial distance there too, which kind of gives you a front-row seat on these moments of psychic disaster. I wouldn’t be so interested in being within Liam’s stream of consciousness in the final scenes of ‘Above the Wedding’, when he’s completely wrecked, but by tracking him at one remove, the writing can reflect a degree of his disorder while still remaining coherent.

I hadn’t thought of the prose style establishing a kind of tragic distance between the characters’ disorder and the writing’s order, but I think it’s an interesting idea. What you say about the limits of self-knowledge, and our knowledge of others, is certainly true; it’s there throughout the book and is something that fascinates and sometimes terrifies me, depending on how robust I’m feeling on a particular day. That’s why Eva’s arc is the reverse of a traditional one. She becomes less known to us as the book goes on, and the individual chapters in her story move from first person to close third to, in the final piece, close third on her husband.

Mistakes

I had been a poet for quite a long time, and then stopped writing for ten years. I wrote a novel. I put it in the drawer. The next morning, I woke up with this voice in my head, the voice of Alvaro. I began writing and I wrote, very quickly, a hundred or a hundred and fifty pages… in six weeks, let’s say. The novel, so everyone knows, due to mistakes that I made along the way, took seven days a week, 365 days a year, seven years to write. I made a terrible mistake late in the book. I had to rip out a year’s work and it took a year and a half to replace it. But it was a daily — getting up at three-thirty or four in the morning to write. And I had invested so much in the book that I wanted to answer basic questions in my own life, in the course of writing the book.

Jim Gauer
in interview with Michael Silverblatt

The Joys of Syntax

When I began to write fiction I discovered, in a wholly new way, possibilities within the sentence. I discovered the joys of syntax. This seems ass-backwards; I should have found syntax first as poet. It seems that it was simply developmental, I was at last seeing what the music inside a sentence, the intelligence inside a sentence, the personality within the sentence might be. In those first stories things seemed possible and more than possible it felt essential at times to have three prepositional phrases jammed up together, to take the sentence in one direction and then press it into another direction. I began to consider what I could do with postponement or preponement of, for example, the subject of a sentence.

Victoria Redel
in interview with Jason Lucarelli

Treasures in the Digital Aether

I’m not interested in reading books that tell me what I already know. I don’t want to read a novel that makes me ‘care about’ a fictional character; I want to read a novel that teaches me a new way to think or a new way to read, or else intentionally frustrates my desires for those things, or does something else entirely unexpected — frankly, a formula of rising action, climax, falling action and denouement seems to me to be the thing that’s in need of defending. How boring! Why would anyone want to read that?

That’s from a fantastic interview with Emmett Stinson at Verity La, an online Australian literary journal that has evolved from interesting to absolutely indispensable in the space of about six months. Even better than the interview as a whole is that it is only the latest installment in a long series of equally fantastic interviews. Continue reading

What Not to Do

In an interview with John Self, David Mitchell explains how he approached the unfamiliar territory of the third-person voice while writing The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet:

I’d never really attempted this commonest of forms before because I never knew what to leave out — the third is the infinite voice, whereas the first is the limited one — [but] a few years ago I asked A.S. Byatt how she decided what to put into third person narratives, and her answer was as simple as it was helpful: what you think the reader will want to hear, that’s what you put in.

That is possibly the worst fiction-writing advice I have ever heard, and I’m not surprised it came from Byatt because it cuts to the heart of what makes her work so radically unsophisticated. It’s a recipe for pure storytelling with an overbearing emphasis on the telling-ness of the story; it’s an excuse for using the form of the novel to spell out a fictional tale without exploiting of any of the particular aesthetic and rhetorical properties of the novel in order to artfully shape the tale in the telling. It’s not a blueprint for a way of writing a novel that works as a novel; it’s a way of throwing the garb of a novel over an impromptu but strung-out campfire yarn.