Saturday, July 01, 2006

2004: The Year of Henry James

How would you feel if you wrote a novel about a famous historical character, only to find that another novelist had chosen exactly the same subject and even focused on the very same period of his life?

Poor David Lodge! He did not realise until after he'd finished his Author, Author that Colm Toibin had also written a novel about Henry James, the highly acclaimed, The Master.

Lodge must have felt pretty gutted as he saw more critical praise heaped on his rival's novel than on his, along with nominations for the top awards. (And of course, The Master won the IMPAC Prize.)

Lodge has now written The Year of Henry James, in which he looks back on the experience. But he still hasn't managed to bring himself to pick up Toibin's book, he says.

Was there something in the air or in the water in 2004, that made the world suddenly go mad for Henry James? As this piece in the Telegraph points out:
There were no features in Vanity Fair, no editorial columns, and no heated discussions in pubs. But among writers, everything went a bit James. ... Four Jamesian novels came out within months of each other: biographical works by Colm Tóibín and David Lodge, and more tangential novels from Alan Hollinghurst and Toby Litt (The Line of Beauty and Ghost Story). How should one respond to this synchronicity, other than to accept it as proof that novelists are not only cut off from the wider world, but that they are cut off in the same kind of way?
James has always been a writer's writer and I think the apparent synchronicity reflects a desire for a return to a kind of elegant craftsmanship that seems to have fallen by the wayside in modern fiction writing.

Time to reread the master himself!


Ron said...

That LibraryThing is an incredible place, Sharon. After reading this post about David Lodge, I went to LT to check to see which of his books might have. I ended up browsing there for nearly two hours and I wonder where the days go!

Ted Mahsun said...

It so happens I recently bought a collection of Henry James's short stories myself! Shall go read it now...

Sharanya Manivannan said...

Ouch! I am hurting for Lodge. Not familiar with his work, but am familiar with that fear. Good on him for persevering with his project, and for being willing to confront what happened via his new book. Ouch, ouch, ouch!

bibliobibuli said...

ron - i know that problem well, love browsing other libraries, and the reviews, and exploring the tags ...

ted - i don't think i've read his short fiction but if "the turn of the screw" his novella is in there, do read that!

sharanya - yes, i guess it's every writers greatest fear ... i want to read both books though as i've enjoyed lodge's other novels very much indeed