Wonderful to have a white Xmas. My children, nephews and nieces all went sledging with me down a hill in the Chilterns at great speed – and is there anything more beautiful than travelling across England on a sunny day when it is completely under snow, as it was on Christmas Day?
That said, the ‘weather events’ of the last few weeks have left me wondering if we have lost the ability (or humility) to know when not to make the journey. Are we so used to being able to “beat nature” and control it that when clearly uncontrollable forces arrive we still try to soldier on when the wise course of action would be to beat a retreat?
I noticed this when caught myself in a whiteout blizzard on the M25 as it crosses the North Downs in Surrey. We think of suburban Surrey within the M25 ring road as being about as tame as England gets; but the hills of the North Downs collect the first wave of any incoming north-easterly snow and can fast turn into a bleak and hazardous environment.
On this occasion within just 20 minutes the scene looked like something out of the German retreat from Moscow: heavy lorries lumbering to a standstill (400 ended up parked on the hard shoulder overnight), visibility down to a few yards, the slipways icing up so that it was only with extreme difficulty that anyone could leave the motorway at all. Read more…
Literary launches are often dull affairs — dutiful publishers, respectful friends, bashful authors — so very agreeable to be invited to the Granta launch for their new ‘best of’ list of ‘young Spanish language novelists’ – in Granta 113. Someone (Saskia Vogel) has had the bright idea of combining the reading with a professionally hosted wine tasting so that each writer is paired with a fine Spanish vintage. As punters are only given one glass, this means they have to drain it between each reading to get a refill. Result? A happily inebriated audience who appreciate every last word that the writers feed them.
And the writers themselves? Granta make much of the idea that this new generation (i.e. born after 1975) have not experienced the repression of Franco or the Latin American dictators, so write more of the personal than the political. This perhaps oversimplifies the work of the older generation – like Vargas Llosa and Márquez – and also ignores the work of some of the finest young Peruvian writers like Daniel Alarcón (Lost City Radio) and Santiago Roncagliolo (Red April) which is intensely political.
But they do have a point as it is true that one huge influence hangs over this generation and not necessarily a benign one: the late Robert Bolaño, who was been canonised by the literary world since his untimely death. Bolaño made a virtue of an autobiographical approach – what it was like to live as a writer in the Latin American bohemian world of casual sex and drugs – which in the hands of a master is all very well, but when played out in infinite variations by disciples can become introverted and dull. Writers have affairs and literary rivalries — fine . But give me Macondo or the War At The End Of The World for a bit of scale and vision. Both Alarcón and Roncagliolo provide that in their novels above, as do some of the others; the best of the work here is, to use one of Borges’s favourite words, nítido, lucid and intense (and very well translated), and as ‘viscerally real’ as Bolaño wanted South American literature to become. Granta are to be commended for their commitment in launching the project.
What is notable is the lack of women writers. All six of those reading tonight are men. And only a quarter of the total published list are women. This is not the fault of Granta, who have rightly selected just on merit not political correctness. But surely the next wave of Latin American writing will see far more from the likes of the remarkably accomplished Lucía Puenzo, who is both a filmmaker and writer.
Back to the winetasting, which should be developed further by other literary publicists: I’d like to see a vodka tasting with Martin Amis and Ian McEwan; champagnes with Howard Jacobson; and ‘Amazonian armpit arguardientes’ with Will Self.
see my full review of the issue