#FILIT2017: Jonathan Coe, special guest @SerileFILIT


octombrie 6, 2017

One of the special guests of this year’s edition of FILIT Iasi, British author Jonathan Coe attended the first of #SerileFILIT, the one that officially opened the festival on Wednesday.

Here are some of the highlights of the talk with the writer, taken straight from my notebook:

  • „I’m beginning to feel like a senior writer. I just got my first Lifetime Achievement Award back in Italy. This is like the kiss of death. It means you have to stop writing.”, „I celebrated in France, in a very modern way, with a tweet”.
  • „Getting published is a landmark. And I was first published 30 years ago. But I had started writing many years before; actually, I have three or four unpublished novels, that are stuck in a cardboard box in my home.”
  • „I wrote my first story when I was eight. That was a very short piece of work. I wrote it on a little notebook and I was really proud as it seemed to be about 150 pages long. But then my father, who was really proud, took it to work and asked his secretary – I still don’t know if she was paid to do this- to type it. And then it was only 28 pages long. And each chapter was less than page. So I was really disappointed. I thought I had written my first novel.”
  • „For the first 10 or 15 years, everything I wrote was an imitation of what I loved and what I was following. Even The Accidental Woman is an imitation of early Beckett novels.”

  • „The House of Sleep was a conscious attempt to get away from that label of political writer. Like all of my books, it is based on personal experience, but I pushed the fiction to a more extreme version. Obviously, I never had a sex change surgery. But it is based on a very intense friendship I had in college. I was desperate to get close to her and to impress her. She was a strong feminist, so I became a feminist to get her approval. I took on this identity. I read feminist literature and feminist theories. And that education that she gave to me was very important and completely changed me for the better. This is what The House of Sleep is about.”
  • „I used to have dreams about people, that were highly emotional in content, and which changed the way I felt about that person in real life. So I became very interested in researching what is happening when we sleep. And I wanted to write a book where the most important emotions happen during sleep”.
  • „I used to walk in my sleep. And one night I was attempting to walk out of a second floor window. Luckily for me, my roommate found me.”
  • On his books looking back on relatively recent history: „Well, it’s important to look back because you can only back. You can’t look in the future as far as politics is concerned, because, in UK at least, it has become so unpredictable.”
  • „When you write history fiction, what you actually end up doing is writing about the present”.
  • „I think very few of my books are actually satirical. They deal with politics and they use humor, but does not make them satirical in my view. I agree with Milan Kundera that the words satire and novel are incompatible.  In satire, you start from a thesis, from something that is preconceived and you attempt to get the reader to reach the same conclusion as you did. But novels are about ambiguity, ambivalence, plurality of points of view”.
  • „My editor asked me if I wanted to write a book on Brexit, and I said no. Because Brexit is not a novel subject. Novels are about people, about relations.”
  • Marius Chivu, host of the evening, asked Coe: „Are you a humorous person in real life?”. Coe, with a straight face, replied: „I’m hilarious”.
  • Chivu also asked whether Coe believes big books are incompatible with  humor, as none of the Nobels awarded for literature were handed to funny authors.  Coe answered that, while this is true, he can’t remember a single one of his favourite books that is not funny. Also, „I feel a responsibility, as a writer, to reflect the totality of human experience. How can you do that without registering and writing about the joy and the absurdity that flash in on us even in the most unexpected moments? (….) Sure, when people give literary prizes, they like to put on their serious hat and serious outfit, and they rarely award prizes to books that use humor. I think this is why I never won the Booker Prize in Britain. At least, this is the fiction I like to tell myself”.
  • „My main goal is to give the reader pleasure. Reading to me is about pleasure first and foremost. I think this is part of the contract between the writer and the reader”.
  • „Rain before it falls is an exception, because it has no humor. And now I think this was a mistake. I should have added a bit of lightness to the shade. (..) It was a bestseller in Germany, though. I don’t know what conclusion I should draw from this.”
  • On having children and writing. „Parenting is consuming, distracting, it makes you more tired, but I feel very strongly that my emotional palate was extended a lot when I had children. My books are more full of tenderness. I could have never written the Rotters Club if I had children at that time.”.
  • On his relationship to music.  „There are so many musicians who are frustrated writers, and so many writers that are frustrated musicians. And very rarely you get someone like Nick Cave who is able to do both. I’m very lazy, this is why I never became a musician. To become a musician, you have to study hard. But the path to writing is a lot easier. There is writing in private and getting it wrong and not showing this failure to people… until you know you can. Writing is an amateur profession, in a way, you can learn it yourself without any formal training. I still write music, you can find it online if you look for it carefully.”
  • Chivu asked: „If I had a piano here, like I asked, would you have played for us?”. Coe: „I’m not so easy. You should have bought me some drinks first at least.”
  • Advice to young people (question that came from someone in the audience): „Try to make a better job of it than my generation did”; „Stay young and hold on to your enthusiasm, and energy, and optimism as long as you can. Because the alternative might be wisdom. But the alternative today I’m afraid might also be cynicism. People have become almost too cynical to act.”
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!