Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Franzen follies

The Times yesterday had a two-page interview with Jonathan Franzen. Well, it fills up the space between the adverts, doesn't it?

For those of you who have, mercifully, forgotten, or never knew, Franzen is the author of The Corrections, a novel which was the talk of the town -- in some quarters -- a couple of years ago. The interview reveals, however, that since then poor Mr Franzen has had an absolutely miserable time. All that fame and fortune did not make him happy. No sirree. His wife couldn't stand the fact that he was more successful than she was, and divorced him. And then he just couldn't write any more. You know? Bit like being impotent, I guess. So he's been in therapy. Well, that should fix it all right. Make it permanent, I wouldn't wonder.

Mind you, life wasn't always blissful, even when Franzen was an unknown. His first novel was reviewed by the New York Times in the crime fiction section! Imagine the shame of it! One wonders how he could ever face his friends. A serious, worthy chap like Franzen being mistaken for one of those low-class fellows who write books which people read for fun. You just can't win, can you?

A word of advice to any young authors whose eye may, perchance, fall upon these words. Just don't take yourself too goddam seriously, OK? What we have in Franzen is a writer who doesn't write. When asked by the Times about his next novel he said that he might, perhaps, write some short stories.

Listen, my friends. A writer is someone who produces a couple of books a year. Terry Pratchett, Nora Roberts, Dean Koontz, Josephine Cox. These are people who have a core of fans who have grown to enjoy their work and buy it regularly. And what do these writers get in return for their enormous success? They get sneered at by the literary establishment, that's what.

Well, that can work both ways. Stephen King said that his first impulse on reading The Corrections was to heave it into a far corner of the room and then piss on it. Which is probably the way I would feel if I ever bothered to read the book. Which I am not about to do.

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