Claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

One of the priv­i­leges of this job is the chance to meet writ­ers. Some­times it’s writ­ers I’ve long ad­mired. At other times it’s ones I’ve only just caught up with as a reader so as to in­ter­view them. I don’t want to list names be­cause there are lots and I don’t want to leave peo­ple out. I like them all! Some­times it’s writ­ers I never thought I’d meet, and here I’ll name a few: David Ire­land, El­iz­a­beth Har­rower, JM Coet­zee. You know that old warn­ing about it be­ing un­wise to meet your he­roes? Well, I hon­estly can say I’ve never met a writer whom I liked less as a re­sult. Quite the op­po­site, in fact. A won­der­ful, and per­haps sur­pris­ing, ex­am­ple — in terms of the un­met hero be­ing even bet­ter in per­son — is the rock star (and bril­liant writer) Nick Cave. His warmth and gen­eros­ity, his in­tel­li­gence and hu­mour — and his in­ter­est in non-rocker me — was beau­ti­ful.

Then there are the writ­ers I wish I’d met but now will not. Top of this list is Wil­liam Trevor, the Ir­ish short-story master and su­perb nov­el­ist, who died on Mon­day, aged 88. I did try to set up an in­ter­view with him a few years ago when I was in Eng­land (he lived in Devon) but it didn’t come to pass. Even so, he will live with me for a long time, as he does with so many read­ers. We are en­riched by his deep en­gage­ment with what it means to be hu­man. All of his books are worth read­ing. I was gripped by the 1994 novel Feli­cia’s Jour­ney, which was filmed with Bob Hoskins bril­liant as the friendly, ter­ri­ble man who comes into Feli­cia’s sorry life. But my topof-the-head favourites are the 1991 novel­las Read­ing Tur­genev and My House in Um­bria, pub­lished to­gether as Two Lives. The sec­ond was filmed in 2003 with Mag­gie Smith. And of course there are the mag­nif­i­cent short sto­ries. I have a fat book full of them, a col­lec­tion of what Trevor called “the art of the glimpse”, and I will be dip­ping into it this week­end. I asked Ro­nan McDon­ald, a dap­per Ir­ish­man who is pro­fes­sor of mod­ern lit­er­a­ture at the Univer­sity of NSW, to de­scribe Trevor’s ap­proach to the short story. “He re­alises, like Joyce, that the form re­lies on what is un­said, that master lit­er­ary minia­tur­ists de­ploy ret­i­cence and re­straint as their key tools. Framed by the right words, mute­ness it­self can de­liver an epiphanic truth. In that re­spect, Trevor’s grace­ful art emerges from a supremely ex­pres­sive tact.”

When it comes to the longer form, Trevor was short­listed for the Man Booker Prize four times. An ar­gu­ment could be made that he’s the great­est Bri­tish-Com­mon­wealth writer not to win the award. I don’t know if this is the in­flu­ence of my other hat, the film one, but I link him, in mind, to Richard Bur­ton, who re­ceived seven Os­car nom­i­na­tions but never won. By the way, I never met Bur­ton ei­ther, but wish I had. Speak­ing of that grand Welsh ac­tor, he could have won it in the 1960s for Becket or The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Who’s Afraid of Vir­ginia Woolf ... un­til you check who he was up against and re­mem­ber who else was scowl­ing for the screen in that decade. How­ever, I am adamant he should have won as the in­quisi­tor O’Brien in the 1984 film of Ge­orge Or­well’s Nine­teen Eighty-Four. I also think John Hurt should have won as Win­ston Smith, adding to the one he should have won as Joseph Mer­rick in The Ele­phant Man. OK, I’ll stop now be­fore I am sent to Room 101. Ex­cept to add that Nine­teen Eighty-Four is one of my favourite nov­els, and I strongly re­late to Char­lotte Wood’s in­tro­duc­tion to a new edi­tion, which we pub­lish here to­day. Quote of the week: Paul Keat­ing and Noel Pear­son grabbed the head­lines at this week’s launch of a much-awaited bi­og­ra­phy of our con­tro­ver­sial 24th prime min­is­ter. But I want to share a quote from the bi­og­ra­pher, Troy Bram­ston, re­call­ing a mo­ment late in the edit­ing process when his sub­ject called with some late advice. “He said, ‘Troy, don’t f..k it up.’ ”

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