When I was fifteen, my uncle gave me a book and said that I should treat it like a fine wine. I should take time to savour it, and be sure not to read too much at once. He was right about its fineness, though sometimes I shirked his advice and ended up drunk.
In this new (and hopefully regular) segment, members of the BWC will talk about their favourite literary meals. Those paragraphs that are so rich they take a while to digest, that packet of word crisps you put in the cupboard but keep going back for until the whole thing is empty, that comforting poetry soup you heat up when you’re not feeling well. What is it about these novels, plays or poems that makes them so delicious?
First up we’re talking with BWC member Julien Oeuillet, a French author, journalist and documentary filmmaker who hopes one day to publish delicious dishes in English language literature.
What are your five favourite books (or poems or plays)?
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov might be the only real writing lesson I ever received – eighteen chapters dismantling all the stereotypes and tropes a writer should avoid, and two last chapters to demonstrate what writing really is.
Valis by Philip K. Dick should be read by anyone regardless of its questionable label as a science-fiction novel – at least the first chapter, which might be the most beautiful thing I ever read, and a perfect demonstration of what non-linearity can do for a writer.
Smallcreep’s Day by Peter Currell Brown is the best example of how a writer can convey a wide range of emotions and statements without feeling the need for a proper ending. No writer, outside of the detective genre, should ever listen to people who tell them to write a proper ending.
Titus Groan, the first volume of the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake, teaches you how the scenery – in this case, the building – can actually be the main character of your story. On top of that, it is yet another proof that your imagination should never be restrained by the need to explain everything.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is the best novel that has been written in our times. It shows why it is important to write a book not about one topic, but about several of them – and to make your novel the only possible crosspoint between all these lines. It is an example of construction, style, characterisation, and this is all in the service of pure emotion.
Choosing one book (or poem or play) from the list above, tell us what you found tastiest about it.
In the aforementioned Eugenides novel, the narrator mentions in the very first paragraph having experienced two births. The second birth, which happens roughly two-thirds in the novel, tore me apart in another single paragraph. And yet, these two paragraphs have no value whatsoever if you don’t read everything that lies inbetween. The remaining third is there so you can re-read the first paragraph after you completed the book and have your heart broken again.
Nothing has ever been written with such a perfect sense of structure – bridges were constructed this way, castles were built like this, the freaking Atomium is built like this. But no other book is, and it stands so firm in front of you that you can only cry about it. If I ever write something half as good as Middlesex, I will have exceeded all the expectations I had for myself.
Who is your favourite writer? Why do you like him/her?
Nabokov may be my favourite. The man can be both a monster and a magician, and I like such a complex personality. His writing is always flawless – in my sense, which means he tramples on many rules and he is right to do so every time. Everything he ever wrote touched me and inspired me: he taught me how to embrace absolute freedom in writing. Every writer should be like Nabokov: make their literature their own realm, governed by their own law, and keep their diplomatic skills for the rest of their life routine.
Eddie Murphy once said, “Anything you have to acquire a taste for was not meant to be eaten.” Have you ever forced yourself to read something because you were told it was ‘good for you’? If yes, what did you learn from this experience? If no, tell us about a book that you hated.
I can tell you everything about a book I hated except its title, because I know the author personally and I don’t want to damage the results of a Google search over this name, so I will use a pseudonym and a fake title.
When Eddie Murphy wrote Beverly Hills Cop, it was a ridiculous wish-fulfilment with a self-insertion narrator whose life in Paris is of no interest and whose multiple boyfriends I personally couldn’t care less about. But the worst thing is that she really pretends she is making a point with her story, proving a social fact, representing a contemporary phenomena. Give me a break Eddie, if you want to write about society someday, write a thesis or a documentary, but not a novel.
The funny thing with this description is that there are a hundred French novels that could be hidden behind this mask. And in fact, perhaps I was speaking about all of them.