Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Can(n)on's Opening Roar

A joint venture between Creative Tourists’ ‘Manchester Weekender’ and Dave Haslam’s successful ‘Close Up’ venture (previous guests include Mark E. Smith and Kevin Rowlands, future guests include Terry Hall and John Bramwell), it was a massive coup to have Jonathan Franzen appear at the Whitworth Gallery. America’s great literary hope actually made his appearance slap bang in the middle of the great Freedom pulping and the bizarre Situationist spectacle theft the following day. He could not have been hotter literary property as he took the stage and wrestled with a makeshift suggestion-box-cum-lectern. Inside sources hinted that the author’s enthusiasm for promotional duties had been seriously dented by the recall of his long-awaited novel, but he persevered, it was with good humour he took the stage to read to us from Freedom.

The writing is characteristically evocative and wry, always hinting at a vast dramatis personae of the usefully maladjusted that might well incorporate the whole of America. I always think of it as a Hollinghurstian talent, the knack of reproducing odd arrangements of conversational inflection and idiosyncratic syntax that really mark one individual from another, but in all probability Franzen does it best, and I’m still only a third of the way through The Corrections.

He discusses the possibility of his place, according to Time magazine, amongst the pantheon of ‘Great American Novelists’. It seems inevitable The Corrections will one day be a canonical American text, and maybe Freedom too. He is humble but palpably confident about the quality of his work, famously confident enough to deplore the quality of writing elsewhere (see ‘Perchance to Dream’). When he talks he has a lovely habit of taking great long pauses before he answers a question. When Dave opens the floor to a series of pleasingly intelligent questions, Franzen says, ‘Now I know why I remember Manchester. You ask such good questions here.’

He responds to a question from Dave about the need to cultivate a public persona in order to publicise his writing with this: ‘Occasionally one gets irritable and even snaps a little bit and you can feel it going straight to a blog’. Don’t worry Jonathan, I like you. In fact I was so enamoured with him, I went straight home and wrote. Check out the interview transcript at Dave Haslam’s site here.

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