Monday, 3 August 2009
Films and Fiction
Just watched 'I've Loved you so Long' and feel utterly wrung out emotionally. The story is tragic, but it unfolds with such restraint and economy you simply aren't conscious of having your emotions manipulated by the director - which always has me pressing the off switch! I wasn't surprised to learn afterwards that the director -Philippe Claudel - is also a novelist - the film was made by someone who understands narrative and who isn't afraid of silence. The story was simply told without any filmic or narrative tricks and the viewer was invited to be present in every frame, watching and listening and being allowed to write their own story in the spaces they were given. The ending has been slated by some critics, but I found it tremendously powerful - I wept and wept. The final lines of the film are hugely significant, echoing back through the script. In the prison Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) had been called 'The Absent One', and outside she remains apart, unable to relate - saying at one point to a man who wants to get close 'Give me time, I'm not there yet.' At the end of the film, he comes into the house and calls up the stairs 'Lea? Juliette? Is anybody there?' and she answers - not 'Oui, je suis ici', but 'Oui, je suis là' - 'Yes, I'm there'. This is a film where the words - not just the images - matter.
Tried reading Two Caravans, because I'd enjoyed the Ukrainian Tractors book so much, but began skimming and eventually gave up in disappointment. It's well written, but somehow lifeless. That set me thinking about the second novel and the Two Book Deal. How young writers have been ruined by the insistence of publishers on a quick 'next book' to cash in on the success of the first. Then, when they have disappointing sales, they get dropped. And the only reason there are disappointing sales, very often, is that the second book is not the one the writer would have chosen to write if they'd been given time. When is the book trade going to get back to its roots? Surely it's all about books and readers? You have to value good writing (and know what it is), and give the readers what they enjoy reading. You also have to stretch them a little - surprise them. You also have to invest in nurturing writers without expecting them to be instant best-sellers. Catherine Cookson (one of the best selling authors of all time) didn't publish at all until she was nearly 50 and it took her ten years before she got into paper-back and into the best seller lists. Her books were passed from hand to hand and recommended by one reader to another and gradually her popularity increased. Her publishers must have sleepless nights thinking 'what if?' What if they had cut her off after the second book? Or even the fifth? At her peak Cookson's books and films were bringing in millions a week - as much revenue as a middle eastern oil sheikh!