It all starts with rhythm for me. I love Nabokov’s work, and I love his style. But I always thought there was something odd about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then I read an interview in which he admitted he was tone deaf. And I thought, that’s it—there’s no music in Nabokov, it’s all pictorial, it’s all image-based. It’s not any worse for that, but the prose doesn’t sing. For me, a line has to sing before it does anything else. The great thrill is when a sentence that starts out being completely plain suddenly begins to sing, rising far above itself and above any expectation I might have had for it. That’s what keeps me going on those dark December days when I think about how I could be living instead of writing.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Sentences that sing
John Banville - Irish author of Booker-winning The Sea, and The Book of Evidence and others - is the latest author interviewed in the Paris Review about the act of of writing. Banville doesn't write draft after draft but is driven, it seems, to polish each sentence as he goes to achieve prose that has been described by De Lillo as 'dangerous and clear-running'. Banville says that when he finishes a sentence, it's finished. More of that interview here.
John Banville's method is mine. It is painstaking and painful - obsessional really - but I cannot change it. And I think that's because building a novel for me is like building a house: each piece of wood needs to be measured and sawn and sanded and nailed or bolted into place in exactly the right way so the next length of wood can be put in place beside it ... and so it goes. Of course, for a building there are exact plans, which is where the analogy falls down. I build not knowing exactly what it is I am building.