I loathe the day a manuscript is sent to the publisher, because on that day the people one has loved die; they become what they are—petrified, fossil organisms for others to study and collect. I get asked what I mean by this and that. But what I wrote is what I meant. If I wasn’t clear in the book, it shouldn’t be clear now.

I find that Americans, especially the kind of people who write and ask questions, have a strangely pragmatic view of what books are. Perhaps because of the miserable heresy that creative writing can be taught (‘creative’ is here a euphemism for ‘initiative’), they seem to believe that a writer always knows exactly what he’s doing. Obscure books, for them, are a kind of crossword puzzle. Somewhere, they feel, in some number of a paper they missed, all the answers have been given to all the clues.

They believe, in short, that a book is like a machine; that if you have the knack, you can take it to bits.

John Fowles, writing in 1966, an essay from Wormholes, written just before releasing The French Lieutenant’s Woman for fossilisation publication.

Recalling Old Favourites

At Nonsuch Book, Frances reminds me of an old favourite author, John Fowles. At one time I read all his novels, fine writing and a unique voice. The book that stands out prominently in my recollection is Daniel Martin. There are new editions around but I am tempted by first editions from Fowles’ own library.

Fowles is the second old favourite that I must reread one day, the other being Joseph Heller. Heller’s Something Happened is the novel I recall fondly, a perceptive and genuinely funny book.