Thursday 8 December 2016

The Lost Interview

OK, so it isn't actually lost, but it is little known and hard to come by. Olga Kenyon in her interview with Anita Brookner in Women Writers Talk (Lennard, 1989) takes the following stance: 'Brookner revitalises the romance as she fictionalises its restricting of female potential'. The meeting, one senses, wasn't entirely harmonious, and later Brookner would be interviewed mainly by men.
Kenyon: What were your mother's expectations?
Brookner: She wanted me to be another kind of person altogether. I should have looked different, should have been more popular, socially more graceful, one of those small, coy, kittenish women who get their way. If my novels contain a certain amount of grief it is to do with my not being what I would wish to be. 
K: Did your parents ever talk about their past - or the holocaust?
B: No, and I'm grateful for that.
K: I believe you made plans to visit Poland, but didn't go. Why?
B: For a Jew, Poland is not exactly the Promised Land. I would have liked to see my father's family summer house on the river. But I would never have found it, or known if it was the right one, and that would have mattered to me extremely. 
K: Why is it that you didn't begin writing till middle age, like Edith Wharton? Had you been writing in secret?
B: No, there were no secret notebooks, not a scrap, not a sentence. 
B: ... What is interesting about self-analysis is that it leads nowhere. It is an art form in itself.
K: Do you rewrite a great deal?
B: No, there are no drafts, no fetishes, no false starts; there simply isn't time. I write straight onto a typewriter, as though the novels had been encoded in the unconscious. I find the process of writing painful rather than difficult. You never know what you will learn till you start writing. Then you discover truths you didn't know existed. These books are accidents of the unconscious. It's like dredging, seeing if you can keep it going.
K: Can you explain why you write when it's painful?
B: I can't really explain it. I don't usually enjoy it. There's a terrible exhilaration, like having a high fever, which comes on me. Writing is my form of taking a sedative... 
K: [Of Hotel du Lac:] ... you started with a hotel where you'd stayed in Switzerland?
B: I have stayed in that hotel more than once. Nothing like that happened in the real hotel, so I suppose that image did stay in my memory. It was very still; it was very grey; and one was waiting for something to happen. 
K: In your fiction you seem to me to give a very true picture of the way it is to be lonely, to be perceptive, to be an observer. Do you feel yourself to be those things?
B: I know all those things, intimately. Yes, I'm all those things. 
K: Would you say that one of the major themes is romantic love?
B: Romantic hopefulness - it's constant, in spite of a sense of defeat.
K: Isn't it a little old fashioned today?
B: Romanticism is not just a mode; it literally eats into every life... 
K: You said to another interviewer that love is your subject.
B: What else is there? Everything else is merely literature... 
K: You said that when writing Family and Friends you were in control. Is that a motive?
B: 'With one bound Jack was free.' It's a kind of involution almost. Maybe as in psychoanalysis you abreact the whole thing and it comes out right... 
K: Your characters are not at home in the twentieth century. Is that why your heroines are given such a limited set of alternatives?
B: They are stupid - if they weren't they'd have more options. But the choice is never unlimited, that's the twentieth-century mistake, whereas the nineteenth century was more realistic. You can do this or that, not an unlimited number of things.
K: Is your writing a critique on the options of the twentieth century?
B: No, except that I find the moral position of many modern novelists ridiculous, as if you could start editing your life halfway through... 
K: Do you think you are read by men?
B: Yes,I do.
K: And read differently? How?
B: The most pertinent criticism I've had from a male reader was 'You write French books, don't you?' They don't offer comments on the characters, which women always do ... [Men] seem to view it from a certain distance. I haven't taken elaborate soundings, but I just know that the criticism tends to be different. 
K: ...Which qualities do you value most in a friend?
B: I think accountability, that's to say explaining actions with full knowledge of emotions and procedures. You get it in Russian novels: the complete confession. Accountability in friendship is the equivalent of love without strategy, and it is the Grail.

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