“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ford’s Focus

THE ULTIMATE GOOD LUCK is one of my favourite crime novels, so it’s just my luck that it was written by one of America’s literary darlings, Richard Ford. Which means that you’re not really allowed to consider it a crime novel - at least, not in polite society (due to a mis-type, I just realised how close ‘polite society’ is to ‘police society’. Anyhoo …)
  Where was I? Oh yes. THE ULTIMATE GOOD LUCK. So anyway, I had the very great fortune to interview Richard Ford a couple of weeks ago, this because he has a new novel coming out in June, called CANADA, and a wonderful experience it was, too. Richard Ford is entirely charming, a real gentleman, and I found the whole experience hugely enjoyable.
  At one point, I asked about THE ULTIMATE GOOD LUCK, and if he’d written it as a crime novel. Well, yes, he said, sort of; he took Robert Stone’s DOG SOLDIERS for inspiration, but he considered DOG SOLDIERS to be a literary novel.
  CANADA, by the way, opens up like this:
“First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed …”
  I don’t know about you, but that’s about the most noir opening to a novel I’ve read in many a long year.
  But the point of this post isn’t whether Richard Ford writes crime novels, or is entitled to write crime novels and call them literary novels on the strength of his facility for language (for what it’s worth, I think he is, although to be honest I really don’t give a rat’s ass either way). The point of the post is that, when he was talking about THE ULTIMATE GOOD LUCK - and bear in mind that I think that novel is a wonderful piece of writing - he then chilled my blood by saying that that was the novel that made him aware he needed to up his game. What quality, I asked, did he believe his writing lacked? Quoth Mr Ford:
“What I thought was lacking was that I knew a lot more, I could do a lot more, I thought I was capable of more, than I was getting into the book. A sense of humour, a sense of gravity, a sense of complexity, a sense of largeness - those things weren’t getting into the book. They weren’t all getting in at the same time. So I was trying to create a sense that the books would contain my whole array of talents. But I think probably everybody, particularly younger writers, thinks to herself or himself, ‘I’m not getting it all in.’ You know, when John Updike died, there was a piece in the New Yorker, and one of the things that Adam Gopnik wrote about John was that by the end of his life, Updike was fully expressed. And I think in order to write a novel, you have to be fully expressed, leaving nothing out.

  Is it too early to ask about Richard Ford?

  “Oh no, it’s not too early. If I quit tomorrow, or if I died tomorrow, I would die with the satisfaction that I am fully expressed. And by ‘expressed’ I don’t mean that I have ‘expressed myself’, but that I have pushed out of myself everything I can push out. Writing novels is not notably a mode of ‘self expression’. It’s more a mode of employing yourself, employing your brain and your memory, your sense of importance, for the purposes of the book that you write. Some people say, ‘I write for myself’, or ‘I just write about myself’. I don’t think that’s what I do. But I do make use of probably everything myself contains.”
  “But I do make use of probably everything myself contains.” An interesting line, that, I think. Me, I tend to focus on maximising certain aspects of myself when I’m writing, and deliberately excluding others. Maybe I should think more about tossing more into the melting-pot, see how it all boils out …

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