BY SHAWN BADGLEY, Austin Chronicle
“The power of a tale is in the gaps and pauses.”
– The Gift of Stones (1988)
20 blessed years passed without incident between Jim Crace’s
bouts with writer’s block. By the mid-Eighties, the longtime journalist was a
“left-wing sort of tame poodle” for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine and Sunday
Times Magazine in the
with a similar situation 20 years later, after he decided to set in
Austin Chronicle: And then?
Jim Crace: I lied myself into such a corner that they said, “Fine, we’ll schedule it for next autumn.” And I, at the time, was reviewing a novel by Gabriel García Márquez, a novel called In Evil Hour, not his best. But as part of the background, I read his great works. And I didn’t love them. I admired them. I could see how brilliant they were. I could see this guy deserved the Nobel Prize, but it was like a magician seeing another magician work. There’s no mystery. I thought: “This guy’s not writing realist novels in the way that I’m trying to. He’s not trying to tell the truth of the world as it is. He’s just making stuff up.” And making stuff up is what I would be doing when I was smoking dope or when I was down at the pub. I was always a bullshitter. I was always a storyteller. And I thought: “I could do this falling off a log. It wouldn’t be hard.” So I sat down, and I started writing Continent (1986). And it came so quickly, and it came so effortlessly. I’d found my voice.
AC: I’ve read several interviews in which you refer to your novels as bourgeois and seem to treat fiction itself with a certain disdain. You’ve done as much already in this conversation. But as soon as I begin to wonder why you even bother with it, you become enthusiastic discussing it.
JC: Well, there’s destructive disdain, and there’s productive disdain. My disdain is just me striking an attitude. That's all I’m doing. I’m striking an attitude to try and stop me becoming a monster. The celebrity sense of writers is something which is very tempting. ... But the enthusiasm comes from the fact that it’s such a natural activity, storytelling. And my spiel on this is that humankind is an ancient narrative animal. ... We have been telling stories for thousands upon thousands of years, and it clearly confers upon us an advantage. And that advantage is that it enables us to play out the future. To imagine the battle before it’s fought. To imagine the argument before it’s made. To work out the marriage proposal before it happens. And also to reconsider the past. ... Being someone that can be a storyteller seven days a week if I want to is still thrilling. Privately I’m thrilled with what I do, but publicly I hold it in disdain.
AC: That makes sense, and I appreciate your being honest with me about it.
JC: You don’t know I’m being honest.
AC: That’s true; I don't. Now might be a good time to ask where the audience comes in when you’re telling these stories. Do you have an ideal reader in mind when you’re writing?
JC: I don’t have any sense of an audience when I’m writing. I don’t consider the audience. Because all I’m interested in is the problem on the page. The very thought that I’ll solve that particular problem within that particular sentence seems so remote that thinking of an audience at the end of it ... that’s way ahead. That’s thousands of years away. And then the very thought that I’m actually going to organize the book properly. Or that I’m going to finish the book. Or if I do finish the book that anyone’s going to like it. Or if they do like it that they’re going to publish it. Or if it’s published anyone is going to review it. Or if it’s reviewed anyone’s going to buy it. Maybe that’s why people constantly say that I kind of hold my readers, not in contempt, but I kind of surprise or disappoint my readers, whichever way you look at it. Because every book is a different book. Someone once said that with every new book I win a new audience and lose an old one. Lots of people hate my stuff.
AC: Can I ask after
the idea behind the
JC: It’s about two
kinds of heroism, two kinds of political heroism and personal heroism. Physical bravery and moral bravery. ... I wanted to
investigate my naive wish to be physically and politically brave in that
romantic sense that those people were in the Spanish Civil War. Or whether
actually there’s something to be said for the self-effacing, polite, cowardly
liberalism, which we are trying to export all over the world, your country and
my country, after we have the people coming along and flying airplanes into the
twin towers and bombing the tube trains in London, young men who sacrificed
their lives in the name of a creed. ... So, we have two heroes in this book. The American who comes from