Thursday, 12 February 2009

Crusaders, The Guardian Book Blog, and the Devouring Vastness of America

An interesting piece on the Guardian Book Blog yesterday by Stuart Evers, on the subject of the common preference of young-ish English readers for fiction written in American... Testing out his own preferences and prejudices, Evers plays an amusing game of compare-and-contrast with two English sentences, to wit:
1. Mary fills up at the gas station, then drives her Chevy Impala to Roy's Diner.
2. Mary fills up at the petrol station, then drives her Nissan Micra to Roy's Rolls.
Indeed, one has rather more dynamism than the other, somehow... But a lot of that is to do with the particular American romance of The Road. I remember at least two fine books that I bought as a young man mainly on the strength of their automotive cover imagery (and, ok, the glowing review quotes appended to said covers), namely Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays and William Least-Heat-Moon's Blue Highways. (Didion's protagonist always pumped her own gas, just like Evers' 'Mary'...)
Evers also cites yours truly in a kindly fashion near the end of his piece, sticking up for the writing of these isles:
"When I asked Richard T Kelly – whose debut novel, Crusaders, was one of last year's highlights from either side of the Atlantic – about British writers' and critics' relationship with American fiction, he suggested that the days of looking enviously over the pond were coming to an end."
Indeed, I remember saying this to Stuart when I met him after the Writloud event at RADA last summer. Because, as I recall, there were quite a few big novels in English about England last year, and they mostly seemed to get serious consideration and marks for ambition. Meanwhile, the typically near-cuboid size of the so-called Major American Novel has perhaps become a rather self-conscious business over the last 10 or 12 years. I'm all for Moby Dick, for U.S.A., for Harlot's Ghost, which is to set the bar a little high perhaps, but if it's a compendious novel then I expect an expansive subject matter to boot.


Stan said...

I enjoyed the book Crusaders but I'm intrigued about the use of the names Steve Coulson and Robert Coulson, and the street Mount Pleasant. I was born in Mount Pleasant, Penshaw in 1950. My mother's maiden name was Coulson and my grandfather (who lived at no. 16 Mount Pleasant) was Robert Coulson. How did Richard decide on the names and the street? Mount Pleasant is now a suburb, whereas in my day it was 40 terraced houses, owned by the National Coal Board. The terraced houses were demolished some time ago, but after 1975 when I emigrated.

Richard T Kelly said...

Dear Stan:
Thanks for your comment, sorry I didn't notice it was there for weeks... The thing with the name Coulson is a mere coincidence, but I suppose it shows that Bobby Coulson is a very characteristic North-East name! I wanted to root the character of Steve Coulson toward Wearside, and I suppose I chose Penshaw mainly because the Monument is also meaningful to John Gore, hence a hidden/unknown affinity between the two men.
Thanks for reading. Where did you emigrate to?