Jim Crace is a titan of the modern English novel. From Continent (1986) and The Gift of Stones (1988) on to Quarantine (1997) and The Pesthouse (2007), he has won a slew of literary prizes without ever losing his popular touch. Hailed as the natural heir to William Golding, he has just published his latest novel, Harvest, to universal acclaim.For the rest, clickety-click here …
When we meet at Dublin’s Brooks Hotel, he suggests that there is ‘a certain icy distance’ to his novels, this on the basis that he is not an autobiographical writer, but in person he is warm and friendly. For a publishing veteran, he is also charmingly direct about the appeal of being a novelist.
“It’s such fun writing books,” he says. “And it’s a tremendous opportunity to be working in a form that is both mischievous and wise at the same time. I don’t want to sound New Age-y about it, but narrative knows a lot. Fiction has been around for thousands of years and it’s got all sorts of moves. As a writer, you shouldn’t resist them – you should listen out for them, because you can bet it’ll come up with better things than you can come up with.”
Crace, to be fair, has come up with his fair share. He invented a whole new landmass for his debut, Continent, which won three prizes straight out of the gate.
“I genuinely was naïve. When I brought out Continent, I thought the best that would happen was that my mum would like it, even if she didn’t read it, and that my cousins would buy it. And then, within about three weeks, it won three of the main prizes – the Guardian prize, the David Higham prize and the Whitbread.” He grins. “And I thought this was the most natural thing in the world.”
He very modestly credits luck with the best part of his success. “I was lucky in that my natural voice, my ‘singing’ voice as a writer, was a rare one. That’s not to boast about it – it just had this unusual tone. There were plenty of writers around who were just as good as me that didn’t do as well as me, because they were writing conventional books brilliantly, but there were plenty of them around. I was writing books that might have been okay, but they were of their own kind.”
Perversely, Crace seems much happier talking about the failings in his writing.
“ I’ve always felt a little bit embarrassed that my books aren’t more autobiographical,” he says. “The reason they’re not, of course, is that I don’t have an autobiographical life. I’ve had a long marriage, a happy childhood, no ill-health, and literature doesn’t like any of those things. Happiness writes white, to use that phrase. But I’ve always felt that somehow or another that this was a failing.”
“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.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
I had the very great pleasure of sitting down with Jim Crace a couple of weeks ago, when he was in Dublin to talk about his latest – and last, apparently – novel, HARVEST (Picador). The resulting interview was published in the Irish Examiner on Saturday, and it opened up a lot like this: