Sunday, June 24, 2018

Will Self / ‘The novel is absolutely doomed’

Will Self: ‘Now that film is being carved up and watched on phones, it no longer needs the novel lying behind it.’ Photograph: Francesco Guidicini

Will Self: ‘The novel is absolutely doomed’

Alex Clark
Sat 17 Mar 2018

The award-winning author, currently writing a memoir of his early years, on reading digitally and why he’s making a list of the female greats

ill Self is the author of 10 novels, five collections of short stories and several works of nonfiction, including The Quantity Theory of InsanityDorian and Walking to HollywoodPhone is the final instalment of the trilogy that began with Umbrellaand Shark and is out now in paperback (Viking, £8.99).
Phone is the last in a 1,500-page trilogy that, loosely, tells the story of psychiatrist Zack Busner, who’s been around in your fiction for a long time. Prominent also are technological advances and the ramifications of conflict. Would it be fair to say there’s a lot going on?
I cover the inception of these new technologies, I cover Alzheimer’s, autism, war, feminism, and what I tend to get back in return is, ooh, you haven’t got any paragraphs! What I want to reflect with this continuous long line is the long line of news threads, the long line of digital type, the long line of advertising that spools its way through the contemporary mind. So the form of the books is meant to represent the impact of new medias in this old form.

The Iraq war also features heavily in Phone. Why was it important to you to include?
I cannot think of a serious literary novelist in this country who’s tackled the Iraq war at all. And I think it’s the biggest stain on our national character of the past 20 years. And I think that collective amnesia about it and refusal to engage with it is playing out in political decisions that are being made right now.
Going back to style for a moment, what did you want yours to achieve in the trilogy?
The novels are notable, of course, for their massive accretion of detail, but it’s a paradox, isn’t it? I mean, I regard myself as a social-realist novelist. I really think this is what life is like now. But it’s what life’s always been like, which is a vast amount of very ephemeral referentia that fill up people’s minds. Fiction far too often presents things as easily accessible that just aren’t.
You say you’re a social realist, but modernism is clearly present in your work. Why do you think it’s so often seen as a difficult or highfalutin way of writing?
I’m not a fool, I can see objectively that not only do readers like to be told what’s going on, but that also, in a sense, you can’t argue with that. I’m not trying to force upon the reading public the idea that this is the way all fiction has to go. I don’t think that. But at the same time, I’m equally resistant to the idea of the kind of writing I’m doing, or Eimear McBride or that guy who wrote Solar Bones [Mike McCormack] or Tom McCarthy – we’re loosely grouped as neo-modernists – that we should be put in a box away from the mainstream of fiction.

You’re not awfully optimistic about the future of the novel, are you?
I think the novel is absolutely doomed to become a marginal cultural form, along with easel painting and the classical symphony. And that’s already happened. I’ve been publishing since 1990, so I’ve seen it happen in my writing lifetime. It’s impossible to think of a novel that’s been a water-cooler moment in England, or in Britain, since Trainspotting, probably.

It’s frequently said that that’s partly because narrative has migrated to box sets. Is there any truth in that?
The relationship between the novel and film in the 20th century was like the relationship between Rome and Greece. Film depended upon the novel, at least in its infancy and youth. The problem is that now that film itself is being Balkanised – carved up, streamed, loaded on to DVDs, watched on people’s phones – it no longer needs its Greece, it no longer needs the novel lying behind it. It’s a disaster for the novel, actually – I think the novel is in freefall.

Now that the trilogy’s done, what are you working on?
A memoir at the moment and that’s a different and interesting kind of writing. It’s very much a Künstlerroman [the story of an artist’s development], because I was so obsessed by it. It’s only about eight years, from when I was 17 to 25, and of course that period for all of us is probably the most exciting in terms of intellectual and cultural development. Somewhat oddly for me, it coincided with heroin addiction.
What’s it been like to look back?
It’s ambivalent. The top line is, I was a deeply unhappy child and young man, deeply unhappy, suicidal a lot of the time. And yet I had an amazing time.
Do you prefer to read on paper or a screen?
I’m completely digital. I barely read on hard copy any more. I was a relatively early adopter of digital reading and I could see that for neophyte readers it would be a disaster, because remembering stuff is more difficult; it’s like painting on water, which is what correcting on computers is like. If you’re teaching you see so many student essays that are a mess syntactically, and it’s because they’ve corrected them on screen. But those of us who are digital immigrants, we carry with us the Gutenberg categories and ways of thinking about it.
And writing?
When it comes to writing, I take entirely the opposite view. I think writing on computers is a bit of disaster and I’ve written all of my books for the last 16 years on a manual typewriter, a good old Olivetti Lettera 22.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reviewing a book called How to Change Your Mind, about the new psychedelics. I’m reading Timon of Athens because I’m looking at a possible opera project. For pleasure, I’m rereading Paul Theroux, who I think is a vastly underrated writer.
And what next?
I’m drawing up a list of important women writers, because I’m teaching a course on the importance of literary influence and the books that influenced me as a writer, and one of my students pointed out they’re all by men. Ditto with literature in English from more diverse cultural backgrounds and heritages. I don’t tend to read contemporary fiction much; I think I’m going to take a bit of a furlough from writing fiction in order to look at fiction a bit more.
 Phone by Will Self is published by Viking (£8.99). 

Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan review / A novel take on the writer’s own life

Delphine de Vigan. Photograph: Delphine Jouandeau

Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan review – a novel take on the writer’s own life

The French author toys with the reader while blurring memoir and fiction and eventually arriving at a gripping thriller

Sun 30 Apr 2017

s this a novel? That is the question Delphine de Vigan wants you to ask on opening her new book; she is playing with the reader from the beginning. The title itself introduces a note of ambiguity about veracity that permeates the story; throughout, we are obliged to ask ourselves who exactly is speaking to us, and how much we should believe.

The narrator is a writer named Delphine; she lives in Paris with her two teenage children, is in a relationship with a well-known journalist called François, and has recently achieved success with an autobiographical novel about her family, resulting in strained relationships with relatives who did not welcome the exposure. Thus far, the details correlate with what is known of the author. But this is fiction – isn’t it?

The real De Vigan’s previous book, Nothing Holds Back the Night, overtly addressed the fraught boundary between memoir and fiction and the question of the author’s licence to invent; Based on a True Story takes the idea a stage further. In the novel, Delphine is crippled by writer’s block after the double-edged response to her last book (never explicitly named here); she begins to receive poison pen letters, apparently from a member of her family accusing her in vicious terms of lying and exploitation. As her crisis progresses towards severe depression, Delphine encounters the enigmatic L at a party. L is intimately familiar with Delphine’s work; an admirer who quickly insinuates herself into Delphine’s life.

There’s a touch of All About Eve to L’s determination, though the book makes more overt cinematic and literary references; epigraphs are taken from Stephen King’s Misery, hinting at the narrative’s direction, though casual mentions of The Usual Suspects offer an alternative interpretation. Sharp-eyed readers will spot scattered literary clues that begin to form a picture as Delphine slowly realises that L’s insistent desire to get her working again may not be as benevolent as it appears.

For a psychological thriller, the story is surprisingly slow-burning. The gradual accumulation of detail as Delphine recalls the development of her relationship with L in a bid to understand, with hindsight, her own failure to see what was happening to her, becomes all the more chilling for its lack of identifiable drama. For the first two-thirds it reads more like an extended argument on the nature of literature and its obligations (or otherwise) to truth, and this philosophical bent gives the book a more thoroughly French flavour than the minimal descriptions of its Parisian setting. L has emphatic ideas about what a writer – specifically Delphine – ought to do, and it becomes clear that she will go to considerable lengths to stop Delphine veering from her approved path. In one impassioned rant she tells Delphine, “Fiction is over for you novelists… Why do you think readers and critics wonder about the autobiographical element in literary works? Because today that’s its sole raison d’etre: to give an account of reality, to tell the truth… That’s what readers expect of novelists: that they’ll lay their guts out on the table.”

It takes until the final part of the book before the pace is ramped up to conventional thriller standards, as the threat to Delphine becomes concrete, though perhaps not in the way the reader might have expected. In the cool, measured prose of George Miller’s translation, De Vigan’s story offers an unashamedly intellectual yet gripping exploration both of intense female friendship, and of our relationship to our own narratives. The question of who has the power – or the right – to tell someone’s story is not one that is easily resolved.
 Based on a True Story by Delphine De Vigan is published by Bloomsbury (£12.99).

Digested classics / Claudine in Paris by Colette

Claudine in Paris by Colette

John Crace
Sat 31 Jan 20l09

Page one and I am already exhausted! But I can just about raise my head to look at myself in the mirror. How my hair has been shorn! I may be 17, but I do declare I could pass for 15. Still your beating hearts, mes petits schoolgirl fantasists! For the honour of my notebooks, I shall have to explain how I come to be in Paris. Oh Papa, I am as furious with you as I am with my naughty eyebrows! How could you have forced us to leave Montigny after a publisher failed to respond to the delivery of your manuscript on the Malacology of Fresnois within half an hour? It was all I could do to find my darling cat, Fanchette, before our train departed.
Our arrival at the apartment in the dismal rue Jacob is confused in a fog of misery. The effort of unpacking a single box of clothes left me with a brain fever so profound the doctors feared I might never try on another pair of camiknickers again. The violets by my bedside prolonged my illness for they reminded me of Montigny and it was several months before I was well enough to venture outside.

"We should visit my sister, your Aunt Coeur," Papa said one day.
"But my hair is far too short!" I complained. "And I have nothing to wear!"
The whipped-cream living room couldn't have been more 1900 and I was curious to get to know my aunt's grandson, Marcel, who was waiting there. The days before our dinner engagement passed slowly. I spent my mornings having my bottom pinched - Ooh la la! - and the afternoons worrying that my breasts were too tiny for my décolletage - encore Ooh la la!
It was annoying to be seen in public with Marcel as he was far too pretty to be a boy and everyone stared at him not me. Yet I contained my jealousy and fluttered my eyelashes coquettishly at him.
"I am not a goody-goody," he said, "but I will not make love to you. Rather, let me tell you about my dear friend, Charlie."
How thrillingly racy for the Paris demi-monde! A boy's forbidden love for another boy! We must become each other's confidante!
"Tell me all about Charlie's naughty bits," I demanded.
"Only if you tell me all about your Fresnois Sapphism," he pouted.
How I yearned for a glimpse of Aimée's budding breasts! How I used to delight in beating Luce about the head when I caught sight of her staring at me pulling my silken stockings over my milky thighs! How strange it was she had not replied to my letter! But, no! I would make Marcel wait awhile.


After a few days' tiring shopping, Marcel introduced me to his father, my Uncle Renaud. Mon oncle bowed low before me, taking my hands in his and kissed them softly, brushing his silver moustache against my quivering skin. My lips flushed with excitement. How could I contain my incestuous feelings for an older man?
"Let me take you to the opera," he whispered in my ear, "and thrill you with scandalous tales of men who dress as women while we watch Marcel and Charlie slip away in the night together."
Paris was muggy that month and men were staring at the sweat glistening on my exposed breasts when I unexpectedly met Luce, dressed in the most expensive fashions, on the Rive Gauche.
"Ma chère Claudine," she said. "I moved to Paris to escape my horrid papa and threw myself on the mercies of my wealthy 127-year-old uncle, who gives me 30 louis each month for the pleasure of my flesh! But I yearn for you. My breasts are rounder now; take them in your greedy hands and ravish them."
She pushed her mouth towards mine and I felt a momentary passionate quiver, before beating her cruelly until she gasped her little death. I dismissed her contemptuously, enjoying her squirming every bit as uncomfortably as the messieurs who are reading this on the Métro.
"So tell me about all the saucy things that you and Charlie do?" I begged Marcel, as he tried on a crepe-de-chine cravat.
"It is a special love we have," he replied, guilefully. "Not like Papa. He is a journalist and he sleeps with any older woman whose nipples harden for him."
How I hated those other women! And how my own nipples also strangely hardened!
"Do not call me oncle any more," Oncle implored, as we shared a bottle of Asti Spumante. "It makes me feel such a dirty old man."
"That is precisely why I love to use it," I said, feeling quite gay. "I would be your daughter, if I could, as that is so much more shocking. Yet if you insist, I will call you Renaud."
"Oh, Claudine! My grey hair is turning blond once more. Let us be wed!"
How I enjoyed the twisted thrill of older men imagining themselves in bed with a submissive teenaged girl! And yet how strangely coy and dated it now seemed!
"You're only getting married to Papa to get his money," Marcel sulked.
"I cannot marry you," I cried, thrusting myself against Renaud in a last attempt at titillation. "I will be your mistress instead."
"Non," Renaud insisted. "I may be a dirty old perve, but I am a dirty old perve with family values."

Ryder's 20 best films

Winona Ryder's 20 best films

From the turkeys to the triumphs, Ryder’s 30-year career has taken her from the too-bad-to-be-missed depths of The House of the Spirits to some much more intriguing choices

Ryan Gilbey
Thu 21 Jun 2018

20. The House of the Spirits (1993)

In any career spanning three decades, there are bound to be turkeys, and Ryder has had her share. But the gloopy Autumn in New York (2000) is beaten in the too-bad-to-be-missed stakes by this laughable magical-realist clunker. Highlights include Ryder’s witless voiceover (“To me, life itself has become the most important thing”) and Meryl Streep levitating a table.

19. Simone (2001)

This high-concept tale about film-maker (Al Pacino), who creates a synthetic, programmable starlet, is not as smart as it thinks. Ryder plays a leading lady prone to tantrums.

18. Mermaids (1990)

The film of the No 1 single! There’s not much more to this coming-of-age comedy than The Shoop Shoop Song. Ryder was an 11th-hour replacement for Emily Lloyd as one of Cher’s daughters (Christina Ricci is the other) in a film beset with production difficulties. The credited director, Richard Benjamin, was its third after Lasse Hallström and Frank Oz.

Maya Angelou (left), Ryder (centre) and Ellen Burstyn in How to Make an American Quilt. Photograph: Snap/Rex

17. How to Make an American Quilt (1995)

Going straight from working with one female Australian director (Gillian Armstrong on Little Women) to another (Jocelyn Moorhouse) was a good move, even if the result second time around was less compelling. Ryder essentially spends two hours taking advice from her elders over whether to marry a DIY enthusiast.

16. Night on Earth (1991)
Jim Jarmusch’s portmanteau comedy comprises five tales of taxi-cab encounters from around the globe. Unfortunately, Ryder is in the worst one. She plays the chain-smoking Corky, a cabbie who dreams of becoming a mechanic. Disagreeably wacky.

15. Great Balls of Fire! (1989)
So-so Jerry Lee Lewis biopic with Ryder, 18 at the time, acquitting herself well as the 13-year-old first cousin once removed who became Lewis’s first wife.

14. Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (1990)

Small-town drama with Ryder as an adopted girl convinced that a returning superstar is her biological mother. This is the standard early Ryder role: high-achieving outsider, dressed in black, incorrigibly odd (she oversees a menagerie housed in an upturned boat).

FacebookPinterestRyder in Alien: Resurrection. Photograph: Sportsphoto/Allstar/20th Century Fox

13. Alien: Resurrection (1997)

An unfairly maligned entry in the franchise, this breakneck, Joss Whedon-scripted sequel from Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, Amélie) doesn’t give Ryder much to do as the android on board another doomed mission, but there is some nice rapport between her and Sigourney Weaver.

12. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Exhausted after shooting three films back-to-back, Ryder dropped out of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III (Sofia Coppola took her place). “Noni was fried, really fried,” said her Mermaids co-star Cher. Ryder bounced back for Coppola’s Dracula but scarcely made an impression amid the extravagant sets and barmy performances.

11. Looking for Richard (1996)

Al Pacino’s lively Shakespearean documentary goes backstage as he tries to unpick Richard III with the help of assorted experts (Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud) and co-stars, notably Kevin Spacey, superb as Buckingham, and a very game Ryder, who makes a tender Lady Anne.

10. Reality Bites (1994)

Much of this Gen X drama is cringeworthy, but Ryder emerges with dignity as the “non-practising virgin” with the “pointy little face”, whether bopping to My Sharona in the food mart or trying not to fall for Ethan Hawke. She used her clout at the time to hire co-star Ben Stiller as director.

9. The Crucible (1996)

“You’ll be clapped in the stocks before you’re 20,” says John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis) to the impetuous Abigail (Ryder) in this high-fibre adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play. Ryder is all bulging eyes and gulping mouth, rendering the OTT camerawork entirely superfluous.

8. Girl, Interrupted (1999)

There is nothing wrong with Ryder’s performance as the teenage girl holed up in a psychiatric institution – she gets to apply her repertoire of haunted, hunted facial expressions to some meaty dramatic material. But no one else in the film stands a chance next to Angelina Jolie’s Oscar-scooping turn as the rebellious Lisa, the real Jack Nicholson in this Cuckoo’s Nest.

7. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

 second film for Tim Burton and her only one with then-boyfriend Johnny Depp (he of the “Winona Forever” tattoo amended to “Wino Forever” when they split). Depp predicted in 1990 that she would be “the Lillian Gish of the next century”. She’s touching as the girl with the hots for the guy with the blades.

6. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Post-shoplifting arrest, Ryder has made some dark and interesting choices, including Richard Linklater’s brain-frazzling adaptation of Philip K Dick’s novel, rendered here in trippy rotoscope animation. She plays Donna, whose addiction to the hallucinogenic Substance D has made her averse to physical contact.

5. Beetlejuice (1988)

Tim Burton’s delirious supernatural comedy has disgruntled teen Lydia (Ryder) summoning a vaudevillian bio-exorcist (Michael Keaton) from beyond the grave. Her big moment comes right at the end when she levitates up and down the stairs to Harry Belafonte’s Jump in the Line like an emo Mary Poppins.

Ryder in Black Swan.
 Ryder in Black Swan. Photograph: Allstar/Fox Searchlight

4. Black Swan (2010)

Natalie Portman won an Oscar for falling apart and sprouting swan feathers in Darren Aronofsky’s ballet freak-out, but Ryder was equally revelatory as the over-the-hill soloist who can’t accept her glory days are over. She beat Jennifer Connelly, Rachel Weisz and Parker Posey to the role.

3. Little Women (1994)

An Oscar nomination came her way for playing Jo, eldest sister of the March clan, in this intelligent and underrated adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s cherished 19th-century novel. Ryder originated the project and convinced the Australian director Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career) to come aboard. The strong ensemble cast includes Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst and Christian Bale.

2. Heathers (1988)

“Fuck me gently with a chainsaw!” Arriving with a wealth of ready-made catchphrases, this acerbic black comedy found Ryder and rebel boyfriend Christian Slater killing off high-school conformists, including a coterie of mean girls all called Heather. The nastiness fizzles out eventually but until then think John-Hughes-meets-John-Waters. It’s so very.

1. The Age of Innocence (1993)
To anyone who doubts that there are hidden layers to Ryder’s occasionally insipid persona, her performance in Martin Scorsese’s poised period drama is as robust a corrective as could be hoped for. She received the first of two Oscar nominations to date for playing May Welland, the delicate flower whose fiance (Daniel Day-Lewis) is smitten with her cousin (Michelle Pfeiffer). The narrator (Joanne Woodward) taunts May for her apparent vacuousness – “What if all her calm, her niceness, were just a negation, a curtain dropped in front of an emptiness?” –while Ryder reveals glimpses of clever cunning.
  • Heathers will be rereleased on 10 August in the UK.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Winona Ryder / Five best moments

Winona Ryder

Ryder: five best moments

Here's our pick of the actor's best film scenes. What else deserves to be on the list?
Winona Ryder in Night on Earth
Winona Ryder in Night on Earth. Photo: Ronald Grant Archive
From 1986 teen drama Lucas to current release The Iceman, Winona Ryder career path has been studded with stand-out performances films in a number of much-loved films.
  1. The Iceman
  2. Production year: 2013
  3. Country: USA
  4. Cert (UK): 15
  5. Runtime: 103 mins
  6. Directors: Ariel Vromen
  7. Cast: Chris Evans, David Schwimmer, James Franco, Michael Shannon, Ray Liotta, Stephen Dorff, Winona Ryder
  8. More on this film
We asked readers to nominate the all-time greatest Winona-moments, and here are the results, with suggestions from@KIRSTYSTRAIN‏@Marshy00@Fine_Life,@cyberjohnboy and ‏@ajeastwood.
Adult content and major spoilers feature in all these clips – but what's missing from the list that should have been featured? Let us know in the comment thread below.

1. Black Swan

Winona apparently felt she had to apologise to Natalie Portman after the filming of Darren Aronofsky's ballet melodrama, feeling bad about the vitriolic dialogue her character spits at Portman's. Still, it made for great viewing.

2. The Crucible

Arthur Miller's take on the Salem witch trials, a response to the House Un-American Activities Committee's activities in the 50s, stars Winona as the initial, vengeful accuser Abigail Williams.

3. Edward Scissorhands

Donning a blonde wig, Winona was perfectly cast opposite Johnny Depp as the love interest in Tim Burton's highly–stylised Frankenstein-update.

4. Beetlejuice

Her second film, and her first with Tim Burton, Winona was the alienated goth teen and friend-to-the-dead who inspired a generation of kohl abusers.

5. Heathers

Here's the last five minutes of the best high school movie of the 80s bar none ('arguably', we probably ought to say, despite this being 100% a fact) – so if you've not already seen the whole film, you'd probably better skip this clip. Features an extremely novel method for lighting a cigarette.