Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Cheap, Shitey, Dry and Academic: European Writing

This is so funny I can't help but recycle it (via the Literary Saloon). Christos Tsiolkas is an Australian writer currently on a residency in Edinburgh and on the longlist for the Booker Prize. His latest novel The Slap is apparently controversial, and he's obviously not one to shy away from an argument. Because look at what he said at the Edinburgh international book festival:

A friend of mine gave me a book of the best European short stories of 2009. I was instantly struck by how dry and academic they were, and not in the best way, in a cheap, shitey way (...) They didn't talk about the real. I want something more rigorous, more challenging than I am finding at the moment.

Don't you just love it? In other words, Tsiolkas read this one book, Dalkey Archive Press's Best European Fiction 2010, and didn't like it, and then the press shouted that he'd dismissed all European writing. I'm not going to bother listing the many German-language writers who do "talk about the real", whatever that may mean. Rest assured, however, that they're not all writing about winged lions and what would have happened if Switzerland hadn't been neutral.

Another thing I can't confirm is the extreme concern with class that Tsiolkas attributed to Europe as a whole:

I feel Europeans are so much more class bound … it feels so much heavier here in Europe, not just in Scotland but in Greece, Italy. That must have an effect on your literature.

Because for whatever historical reason, deriving perhaps from its history of dictatorships, Germany is oddly neglectful of class. It's almost a dirty word here, even though I see class distinctions everywhere through my very British social spectacles. But as soon as you mention it you're branded a backward-looking do-gooder.

I'm not sure Tsiolkas actually made these sweeping statements about all of Europe and its literature. But he's certainly looking rather foolish right now.


Nat said...

To know what he means by "the real", you probably have to read his books, because I think he means "the kind of writing I aim for" (although he's not quite egotistical enough to say so). If you look at the other words the original Guardian article quotes him as using to describe the fiction he likes, I think it becomes quite clear: "lacerating", "rigorous", "challenging", "a fearlessness that I am hungry for" - all his novels have been like that, visceral, violent (emotionally and physically) and designed to challenge himself and others as much as possible.

Maybe he hasn't read the right European books, maybe he isn't really talking about *all* European fiction - or maybe his remarks are just a by-product of the lamentable "cultural cringe" which still weighs heavily on Australia, and nowhere more so than in Tsiolkas' native Melbourne. That's certainly what it feels like to me.

David said...

"Shitey" does bring to mind Charlotte Roche.

But Tsiolkas obviously has never read Clemens Meyer.