Friday, May 05, 2006

From My Bookshelf

This week I read Valerie Martin's new collection, The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories. (The book will apparently be released here in the U.S. next week; I read the version published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in London.)

So what was my rush? Well, I'd seen the title listed among forthcoming spring publications some months back, and the title itself ("The Unfinished Novel") caught my writerly attention.

But what really sealed the deal for me was a Boston Globe interview Anna Mundow conducted with Martin. Titled "Portraits of Artists as Conflicted Beings," the interview highlighted the collection's portrayals of artists, as Mundow summarizes it, "in all their vileness, sublimity, and humanity." It included this exchange:

Q: These artists are generally selfish, dishonest, cruel. Is that an occupational hazard?

A: [Laughs]. It's an occupational hazard of being human. I don't think of my artists as particularly repulsive. But ambition of any sort puts you in moral quandaries. Artists, however, are persuaded that their goal is somehow sublime. It's a bit like religion. They feel themselves to be in the service of something.

Q: Are the artistic life and the moral life incompatible?

A: I wish I had said that. I totally agree. Or let's just say it's a struggle.

Now, how can any writer-who-reads resist that, in this age of literary ethical "scandals"?

You might find some of the "moral quandaries" in these stories rather unsurprising. But the title story is a standout. And the writing itself is excellent.

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