10 novels about novelists

Lisa Halliday’s stellar and inventive debut novel, Asymmetry, is a puzzle of seemingly incongruous pieces that, in the end, fit together perfectly. In the early years, young New York City editor Alice embarks on an affair with Ezra, a surprisingly nice older novelist; the decidedly different second section follows Amar, an Iraqi-American of complicated origins who was detained at Heathrow airport on his way to Iraq. The novel provides frequent delights and is a singular clash of forms, tones and arguments. Halliday chooses 10 novels about novelists.

The more you read, the more you realize how little you have read. So this is not a list of the ten “best” novels about novelists, because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m better read than I am; instead, it’s a list of novels about novelists by writers appearing on my shelves at home in Milan—a library as incomplete and idiosyncratic as the next. Indeed, for all the female writers who line my living room, I could not identify more than two who had written a novel on a novelist (Louise Erdrich may be a third, although it is never specified whether the thesis of mastery of Riel America is fiction or non-fiction). fiction, so I resisted including shadow beacon here). I also don’t seem to own any novels about novelists written by writers from other underrepresented demographics below, a shortage that is yearned to be filled with new revelations and recommendations. I guess you could say that every novel is, to some extent, about a novelist, in the sense that a novel is a kind of index of the novelist’s consciousness; who else could it be more? Yet even a literal approach to mission gives food for thought, especially about what prompts a novelist to turn the mirror on her own vocation: one is encouraged to write what one knows. Or maybe one writes about being a novelist to arouse sympathy – to argue that it’s not the enviable profession it would seem. A novelist-narrator is an excuse to be as linguistically extravagant or experimental as one wants, in the service of characterization. And then we have what might be the most alluring motive for writing a novel about a novelist: the opportunity it offers to comment on the nature of fiction itself.

And so to the books, listed here in the same order as they appear on my shelves:

1. Little woman by Louisa May Alcott

In alphabetical order first and naturally the book which I read long before all the others listed here, Little woman was also my introduction to metafiction, insofar as the novelist-character in question may be the author of a part of the novel that we hold in our hands. The book is also practically instructive, in that young Jo demonstrates a healthy poise of public reaction to her first book: “I’ve got the joke on my side, after all; for the parts which have been taken directly from real life are denounced as impossible and absurd, and the scenes which I have invented from my own silly head are pronounced “charmingly natural, tender and true”.

2. Elizabeth Costello by JM Coetzee

An aging Australian novelist famous for a masterpiece published decades earlier, Elizabeth Costello now wearily lectures on topics including realism, animal rights and ‘The Problem of Evil’. Accompanying her to an award ceremony, her son considers her “like a seal, a tired old circus seal. Once again she has to pull herself up onto the tub, once again showing that she can balance the ball on her nose. He also remembers how “for as long as he can remember, his mother isolated herself in the morning to write. No intrusions under any circumstances” – recalling another intrusion, recounted by another novelist in a letter to his editor: “I’m sorry to bother you, Dad”, Cheever once quoted his young son, who had “struck slightly” on his study door, “but my dick is stuck in a zipper.”

3. The democracy by Joan Didion

Although nominally about a senator’s wife and her affair with a CIA agent, The democracyThe real protagonist of is the novelist Joan Didion, who annotates the action with comments on the artistic process. “It’s a difficult story to tell,” concludes the first chapter. The second begins: “Call me the author. Let the reader be introduced to Joan Didion, whose character and actions will depend very much on how much interest these pages may have, as she sits at her writing table in her own bedroom in her own house on Welbeck Street . Then Trollope could start this novel. Novelists summoning novelists: In Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell does something similarly invocative when he writes, of a Paris hotel: “Then the great bustle of the day began – dinner time. I wish I could be Zola for a little while, to describe this dinner hour.

4. The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway

This unfinished and posthumously published novel features the American novelist David Bourne, on honeymoon with his wife Catherine on the Côte d’Azur. Bourne plans to resume writing (“It would be nice to work again but it would come soon enough because he knew it well and he must remember to be selfless”), while his wife, whom he is right to imagine , is jealous of her art, announces that she has a surprise and returns to their hotel with her hair cut short. “You see…I’m a girl. But now I’m also a boy and I can do anything and everything. And so, in a sense, Catherine becomes the novelist of the novel, the most determined forger of narrative and form; she may never put pen to paper, but from the moment her long hair is gone, she seems to embody every woman who has ever commanded herself to “write like a man”.

5. 10:04 by Ben Lerner

A novel about a poet critically acclaimed for his first novel by a poet critically acclaimed for his first novel, 10:04 belongs to the category of novels where the novelist-narrator justifies exquisite, elaborate, exalted prose. The narrator, Ben, gets a six-figure advance for his next book, donates sperm to a friend who wants a baby, faces the news that he might have a rare genetic condition, and considers replacing the book. which he proposed to his publisher. with “the book you are reading now, a work which, like a poem, is neither fiction nor non-fiction but a twinkle between them.”

6. The tenants by Bernard Malamud

Harry Lesser, the last tenant of a condemned building, refuses to leave until he has finished a novel he has been writing for almost ten years. His days are routine and his thoughts rarely deviate from the task at hand: “I have to get up to write, otherwise I have no peace.” Returning one morning after shopping, he hears a telltale staccato from a nearby apartment and discovers a man inside, tapping “energetically with two big fingers”. It’s about Willie Spearmint, who challenges Lesser to reconsider his assumptions about what constitutes fiction versus autobiography while antagonizing him with his anti-Semitism and competitive ambition. Asked about the progress of his own book, Willie replies, “On four feet, man, galloping. …I’m going to win the fucking Noble prize.

seven. Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller

In The tenants we read how “subject and form were inseparable”. Miller’s aesthetically divergent novel supports this idea with its expansive, voracious, exuberant style about a writer who does almost everything but write. “I had to learn, as I quickly did, that you have to give up everything and do nothing but write, that you have to write and write and write, even if everyone advises against it. , even if no one believes it. you. Maybe we just do it because nobody believes: maybe the real secret is to make people believe.

8. The Ghost Writer by Philippe Roth

The first of Philip Roth’s novels narrated by Nathan Zuckerman, The Ghost Writer also features established novelist EI Lonoff, whom the young Zuckerman visits in the country during a snowstorm and stays the night. “… I was twenty-three years old, I was writing and publishing my first short stories, and like many other Bildungsroman hero in front of me, already contemplating my own massif Bildungsroman…” Through Zuckerman untiedZuckerman suffers from his notoriety for having written the portnoy– like a novel Carnovsky; Ominously, the epigraph of Zuckerman’s second book is a line spoken by Lonoff to his wife in the first: “Let Nathan see what it is to be brought out of obscurity.” Don’t let him knock on our door to tell us he hasn’t been warned.

9. The Complete Henry Bech by John Updike

Technically a collection of short stories about fictional novelist Henry Bech, this gem from Everyman’s library justifies bending the rules slightly to be included here. It ends with the ancient “Bech and the Generosity of Sweden,” in which Bech, misanthropic and unprolific, is improbably awarded the Nobel Prize. His wife hugs his baby girl as he prepares to write his acceptance speech, which continues: “I asked my daughter to speak for me. She is ten months old… The subject that we elaborated between us is “The nature of human existence”. … ‘Salvation!’ Golda pronounced with luminous sharpness instantly amplified in the depths of the beautiful infinite room. Then she raised her right hand, where everyone could see, and made the gentle closing and closing motion that means goodbye.

ten. Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila Matas

“Twenty-five years ago, when I was very young, I published a little novel about the impossibility of love. Since then, because of a trauma which I’ll talk about later, I hadn’t written any more, I stopped altogether, I became a Bartleby…” And so we end with a novel about a novelist who no longer wants to be a novelist. In the spirit of Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, Bartleby & Cie. consists almost entirely of “footnotes” about writers who, at one time or another, have suffered from “Bartleby’s Syndrome”, i.e. writers who “would rather not “. These include Walser, Rimbaud, Musil, Salinger, Borges, Magris, Hofmannsthal, Leopardi, Zweig, Saramago, Tabucchi, Pynchon, Rosa Montero, etc. (By contrast, the prolific Simenon, with his “insane energy,” borders on “anti-Bartlebyan insolence.”) “The glory or merit of some men consists in writing well,” reads Jean de la Bruyère, “that of others consists in not writing. On the other hand, as Kafka is also quoted: “A writer who does not write is a monster who invites madness.”