Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Recycled Fiction

All writers repeat themselves. And when we read a favourite author, repetition is in a sense exactly what we want. Kafka wouldn't be Kafka without the terrifying entrapment and metaphysical despair; Irvine Welsh wouldn't be Irvine Welsh without the junkies. As for plot, we keep being told that only four exist anyway (or seven or 36 or one million, depending what you read). Some writers try to focus on a completely different subject every time. ... You never quite know what you're going to get when you pick up the new TC Boyle or Toby Litt or Ian McEwan. Explorers or stoners? Outer space or gothic horror? Brain surgery or global warming? But these authors still leave their signatures, stylistically, thematically, ethically. You could say that one sign of a good writer is that he or she is distinctive (and repetitious) enough to be mimicked. Others, of course, prefer to stick to similar themes or genres: eighteenth-century prostitutes, medieval elves, irate London cabbies. Whatever.
But, asks Toby Lichtig in The Guardian, what about authors who seem to recycle their material. he seems particularly irked by John Irving (agree and gave up reading him some after the huge disappointment of A Widow for a Year), and with some justification, I think, Haruki Murakami and Paul Auster :
... when a modern writer goes in for casual recycling I think we're right to feel cheated.
Have you had the feeling that you were reading recycled material recently?

9 comments:

Oxymoron said...

After reading many of those Sherlock Holmes stories, I find that a few are strangely familiar. :)

renaye said...

yes i do. that is why i try my best to read only one or two books written by the same author except for lisa jane smith. she writes the best vampire romance ever!

renaye
http://renaye.nutang.com

Amir Muhammad said...

Most Malaysian English non-fiction books tend to be recycled newspaper columns anyway. No use blaming local readers for failing to read books, when local writers can't be bothered to write them ;-)

bibliobibuli said...

yes, agree Amir. and newspaper columns don't make satisfying essays.

Kokyee said...

Cats, clasical music (especially jazz) and wells are recurring images in Murakami's stories, but i think that's because he has personal affiliation towards them.
It's like complaining JK Rowling writes only about wizards, or Tolkien was obsessed with elves and men-in-armour. Oh, and there's always someone dying in Stephen King's books.

socratescafe2004 said...

Since Paul Auster and Murakami are mentioned.. I do have my views on this. Been reading their works for years and it has its special magic on my reading habit. Pick up any Auster's, I tend to finish them without knowing it, and only discovered its bulkiness (say, Brooklyn Follies with its extremely small fonts) after finishing. When I say 'finishing' it, it's not like what people might thought as reading it in a binge. It happens at a much lower level than that. A few chapters here and a few pages there. It seeps through my reading habit. I have always known that Auster's recycling his materials as his novel background is mostly centered at New York city. I remember Saul Bellow, when asked why his works are always about Jews, he answered that he wrote about Jews because that's what he knew best. Honest answer if you ask me.

Michael said...

Yes! The other night I was finishing up Jasper Fforde's latest, Shades of Grey. Oh Ford! I realized that it was incredibly akin to Huxley's dystopian masterstroke, Brave New World. I enjoyed both novels, but I did kick myself for not seeing all the parallels earlier in the story.

www.bookliciousblog.com

bibliobibuli said...

i feel that Auster's repetitions are exploring different sides of the same question - and i do rather enjoy spotting them ...

FRANKOSTEIN said...

I always admire those who write using plain English yet manage to make the prose "readoutloudable". Reading Auster's is like seeing Morgan Freeman reciting his script. The pauses are always right; the tone always hits on the right spot; the tempo.. you can basically dance to it. Though the settings are almost always the same (the characters are mostly intellectuals who have trouble enjoy their privileges or status), Auster's works could be real hauntingly close to fervent readers from any background. Take "Moon Palace" for example, the part where the protagonist read through his deceased uncle's collection (boxes and boxes of them) regardless of their titles and genres and sold every single box after finishing... THAT is every "big-bad-wolf" shoppers secretly dream of yet understand perfectly that they wouldn't be able to do such a thing in their life time. That includes myself and when I first came across that part of the story, I can imagine Auster's ghoulish eyes mocking me from the dark corner of my overstuffed reading room.