Saturday, November 11, 2017

Simon Schama On Tolstoy, Waugh And Chandler

The Globe and the Mail offers an interview with Simon Schama, the writer and narrator of the outstanding documentary A History of Britain.

Simon Schama is an award-winning author whose books include Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Landscape and Memory and Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution. His New Yorker columns earned him a National Magazine Award for criticism, and he is a contributing editor at the Financial Times. He is also a professor at Columbia University. Schama's latest book is Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492-1900.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

"Be brave," the last words of my father before he died.

Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?

Chandler's Philip Marlowe gumshoe as wise-cracker, supreme observer of the human condition. Nothing passes him by: poor taste in interior decoration; a smudge of lipstick; a certain something on someone's breath; the possibility of a decent cop; a telling touch of tinny in a nervous chuckle. And yet, he's also a hopeless sap, the hardest-boiled softest-centred romantic in fiction.  

Which books have you reread most in your life?

War and Peace. Next time will be my tenth reading. Sometimes I skip around in translations, but they have to have kept the French passages untranslated. Pevear and Volokhonsky is by far the most satisfying version. Nothing important in human life is missing from Tolstoy's pages – the rage to power; the futile energy spent on schemes political and erotic; the swell and collapse of friendship. But the important things come at you sideways and often in sharp close-up like the fuzz on Lisa's upper lip, which is a tipoff to Andrei's irritation.

Is there a book you consider a guilty pleasure?

Evelyn Waugh's Scoop. "Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole" – the line sings to me as I pass the Waugh shelf in my library – just one more hoot with Boot. Stupendously politically incorrect and generally outrageous, so all the more delicious on yet another reading. But there isn't much Waugh I don't love. Brideshead is a bit mushy, though has one of his great openings. But it was his endings which were startlingly brilliant, the place where he was most brilliant: the eye-poke ending of Vile Bodies; and the most terrifying of all in A Handful of Dust; so terrifying, in fact, that Waugh's American publisher demanded a different and less merciless conclusion, whereupon Waugh produced something ostensibly kinder but in fact a conclusion of ashen cynicism. Two endings, in bleakness competition – that's what I call a writer.

You can read the rest of the interview via the below link:

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