MA Week Twelve

A week late, again; well, never mind.  Here's my last MA post of 2009!  Get ready for my versions of: the final seminar of our Forms of Fiction course, our last Martin Amis session (we didn't kidnap him, more's the pity, I could have brought him over to Dublin for Christmas and it would have been ace, he could have dressed up as Santa and everything, the dude's missing out), and our last workshop with one of the tutors, who's not around next semester.  Plenty of finality to go round, eh?

So, Forms of Fiction was all about Muriel Spark, and The Girls of Slender Means.  I'd read a couple of her novels before, and I get a real kick out of her style - so acerbic and insightful and funny.  Not everybody was as impressed - I think there was something of a girl/boy divide here, with the boys coming down against poor old Muriel, but hey, I could be misrepresenting them.  I loved it anyway.  Things we talked about in relation to the novel were time (objective time versus subjective time, and anachrony, or flash-backs and flash-forwards), the effects on people of closed communities (she does this in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie too - fantastic book!), the doubling of characters throughout the text (Selina, Joanna; Joanna, Nicholas; Nicholas, Rudie, etc), the use of poetry and recitation, notions of love (romantic or pragmatic), private lives and trivial events in the context of history and world events (1945 setting), how the author changes the reader's perspective on a character as the novel progresses (Selina, Joanna), idea of evil and virtue with the backdrop of religion (bearing Spark's own Catholicism in mind).  It was a pretty full-on seminar, now that I revisit my notes.  I've got an essay to hand in at the end of the Christmas break for this course, and I'm writing it on this novel, so I'm somewhat bogged down in Spark right now, though not as much as I ought to be, perhaps - but, dudes - CHRISTMAS!   And it's snowing, snowing more than I've seen it snow in this country before, so essay-writing is getting shunted a little to the left as I'm distracted by trying to wrap myself around the radiator.

Okay.  The workshop was good; we looked at a short story and a novel extract, both very different from one another, and it was a good session.  We did a writing exercise based on John Cheever's style, and our tutor, who'll be away next semester, but returning in the summer to supervise some people's dissertations, wished us luck and a merry Christmas.  So merry Christmas, tutor, and we'll see you as and when the fates dictate!  (Well, in my case, that'll be in January, hopefully, for a delayed post-workshop one-on-one session, and I'm looking forward to it.)

On Tuesday, we had out very last seminar with Martin Amis.  We'll be just like normal punters next semester, without our shockingly impressive writer sitting up there at the front, rolling his fags and telling us stories about Nabokov and Burgess and Kingsley.  Boo.  He'll be back during the year for another couple of public talks, including the launch of his new book in February, but it just won't be the same.  For this last session, we read Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, by Alan Sillitoe, a book I originally read almost eight years ago while camping in Avignon in the stone-splitting heat, and though I enjoyed it then, it didn't blow me away so much this time - perhaps reading it in an actual Northern town, in the rain, in the dark, in the cold, made it all a little too grim and mundane, when from a French campsite it had all seemed good and imaginative.  Anyway, there were aspects I still liked - it's a very funny book, for instance, more so than I remembered - and others that I didn't - the one-dimensional female characters were especially frustrating.  I haven't seen the film, so I don't have that basis of comparison, but Martin Amis seemed to recommend it.  He was a big fan of the book; mostly, this term, we've all been heaping praise on novels that he's then ripped to pieces, but this time we were all giving it six or six-and-a-half out of ten, and he gave it, I think, an eight, which was high praise indeed.  So he talked about how it was the first real working class novel, and how Sillitoe's use of dialect (it's set in Nottingham) was noteworthy when it was originally published.  He reckoned it should really be called Saturday Night and Monday Morning, seeing as Sundays don't feature so heavily in the story, and we talked about how, according to the blurb inside some people's copies, Sillitoe had composed much of it out of of old short stories and poetry, so it's a wonder, really, that the novel has much of a structure to it at all.  We all reckoned the Christmas scene didn't really fit into the narrative flow.  Amis said that it wasn't a protest novel, but almost a celebratory hymn to the life of a factory worker, as Arthur, the protagonist, doesn't try to escape his job or his life, and in fact sings its praises, comparing it to the privations of the war years that preceded it.

We got on to talking about the writer's life - not Sillitoe, but the writer, generally - and Amis repeated what he'd told us before - as a writer, your subject is yourself and the world, and your job is to be supremely individual.  He said that growing up as the child of two writers (Kingsley and his wife, Martin's stepmother, Elizabeth Jane Howard) completely deglamourised the profession; nothing, he said, is more banal than what your parents do.  He said that the result of that was in his remaining somewhat immune to the egotistical ups and downs of the typical writing life. Novels lay you bare, he said, and he quoted Ballard, who claimed that the act of writing a novel was more intimate than climbing into bed with somebody.  Amis described it as the peeling off of one's head.  He asked if we had any questions for him, and one girl pointed out that our group's reading list hadn't featured any female writers, and the other group had only one (Jane Austen, in their first session), so who would Amis consider his favourite female writer?  He answered George Eliot (he'd said the previous week that he think Hilary Mantel is extremely talented), and then he spoke about male and female writers.  He didn't (sadly? happily?) make any soundbite-worthy sweeping statement on the topic (sorry, Daily Mail), and really just compared Jane Howard's writing habits to Kingsley's - and I'd argue, as might you, oh reader! that you can't carry that across to apply to Men and Women, but he wasn't making a considered argument, just chatting about his parents' work habits, so I'll let it slide.  He finished up by telling us to write for nobody except ourselves, to ignore the market, and to write what we want to read.

And that was that.  Bye, Martin.  We love you.

Right.  Um.  Well, I guess I should do my essay now.

2 comments:

Lucy said...

Hi Valerie. I found you off Bookmunch. I watched Saturday Night, Sunday Morning a while back. I really enjoyed the film, and I didn't even realise there was a book version. Shame on me! I will look out for it now.

Good luck with the essay!

Valerie O'Riordan said...

Thanks Lucy. It's coming together slowly; all this snow is distracting...

I'll have to check out the film, and then we'll all be square!