Friday, March 10, 2006
Backlog #2: Written Lives by Javier Marias
This is a charming, insubstantial book of literary gossip-- four to five page biographies of writers (and talkers). Marias says he is treating these writers "as if they were fictional characters,which may well be how all writers, whether famous or obscure, would secretly like to be treated." He presents a few facets of each in a spirit of 'affection and humor', making no judgments about the work, and no claims for anything other than pleasure.

The result is very entertaining and slight--like the company of an aging uncle who has known an array of fascinating people, but seems to have forgotten the very best--most salacious, most outrageous--anecdotes. You get some sense of that it might have been like to be in their company (almost all, as he notes, "fairly disastrous individuals"). Marias likes most of the writers; when he does not, he seems to dwell on the author's sexual deviancy as a way of illustrating antipathy(though not the cause). He doesn't like Joyce (obsessed with women's soiled underwear), Mann (obsessed with the bodies of young men), and Mishima ('erotic fascination with manly bodies tortured, dismembered, flayed, butchered, or impaled'). Like Marias, I have dwelt too long already on the minor faults of pleasant book. This is a book of the texture of writer's company, and Marias is an excellent companion for that--he has a good eye for detail, an amused but sympathetic regard for self-destruction, and deft, lyrical prose.

It is a book of an afternoon--similar to Rachel Cohen's A Chance Encounter--what People magazine might be if focused on dead writers and written by our drunken uncles who had spent the meat of their lives at dinner parties with one and then another. 2.5 furry lobsters.

"According to somewhat kitsch literary legend, William Faulkner wrote his novel As I Lay Dying in the space of six weeks and in the most precarious of situations, namely, while he was working on the night shift down a mine, with the pages resting on an upturned wheelbarrow and lit only by the dim rats of a lamp affixed to his own dust-caked helment."


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