Claire-Louise Bennett: “The brink of adulthood is a very uncomfortable time”


In an unusual novel by Claire-Louise Bennett Cashier 19, its sequel to the famous Pond, an unnamed storyteller who grew up in England but now resides in Ireland, unfolds an unorthodox autobiography – a story of school, university and adolescence, told through reading, writing and glimpses of moments of insight. Throughout all of this, ideas about what constitutes real experience are challenged. Getting to know EM Forster is an experience, as well as looking at an eggplant. The family backstory manifests itself indirectly – through the pleasure shared, for example, by the narrator and her mother in Alan Sillitoe’s film. Beginning of life… The only sure thing is the singularity of Bennett’s voice – recursive, chatty, associative, witty, and on the closing pages slyly deep.

The Goldsmiths Prize was established to honor fiction that “breaks stereotypes or empowers a new form.” What does an “innovative” approach have to offer the reader (or writer) that a more traditional novel cannot offer? Are there certain themes or conditions that require what we could conventionally group as experimental devices?

Reading a book by, say, Anna Queen or Anna Kavan is a destabilizing experience because they don’t take anything for granted. Common factors that are commonly seen as giving life meaning and purpose, such as education, relationships, work, parenting, property, and which many popular novels revolve around, are absent or loom threateningly on the periphery. Increasingly, people are realizing that these supposed landmarks and milestones don’t really give meaning or direction to their lives. These works postulate a personality-developed epistemology and a different scale of existence. Interacting with them can lead the reader to not pay as much attention to external circumstances and challenge accepted ideas about what makes life worthwhile.

Cashier 19 classified as a novel, whereas Pond sometimes called a bound storybook. To a large extent, these are just commercial labels, but was there a difference in how you approached the writing of the two books?

When I write, I don’t think about whether it’s a novel or a story. Some people describe Pond as a collection of short stories, others say it is a novel. This suits me, I don’t feel much desire to settle this issue – although, of course, from a commercial point of view, taxonomic ambiguity is deadly. However, form and structure are the elements of the letter that really excite me. Italo Calvino Six reminders for the next millennium it is a work of literary criticism like no other, and I was immensely glad to discover it, albeit many years ago. In these essays, he discusses prose in a way that is immediately clear to me – he is not interested in defining the characteristics of “story” and “novel”, etc., His understanding of form is much more difficult than that. He generously explores certain qualities and dynamics, such as “lightness,” “uncertainty,” and “plurality.” For a long time, I thought about writing and how I wanted to put it in almost geological terms, so this rudimentary vocabulary, with its emphasis on precision and fluidity, was incredibly inspiring. It’s like everyone else is messing around in a kitchen drawer, and Calvino takes refuge in a faceted cozy observatory, hovering casually in space.

The book pays great attention to small moments, memories and sensations, while basic information about the character comes quickly or indirectly. Did you intend to flip the accents of so-called traditional novels to create something more textured to the way we usually think?

About 20 years ago, I helped a Czech circus performer and violinist build a house in County Clare. It took two days. When this was done, I wanted to stay at Claire for a little longer, and so I was invited to stay in a van nearby. There were some strange books in this caravan, and in one of them I came across something that I wrote down on a yellow sheet of paper. For years, I could not find this piece of paper, and the memory of its yellowness and its contents was long lasting, but ultimately unsatisfactory. Then, recently, I moved. And while I was going through boxes of letters, postcards and so on, I found this. Here is what he said: “Very passionate natures, no matter how irritable they show themselves in small things, no matter how they are buried in their actions in general, when Indeed touched by heart, terribly silent, restrained and predetermined. ” This is from the story “La Girandola” by Count Stanislav Eric Stenbock, whose book Of kings and things came here to my new home on the first day of November.

One of the book’s projects seems to be to glorify women writers and in some cases protect them (Anais Nin) or reveal them to many readers (Ann Quinn). Has this always been the centerpiece of the book?

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The narrator confesses that she deliberately read books written mostly by men when she was younger. She wanted to know about men, men different from the ones she encountered day after day in her working class life. It’s clear. At this stage of her development, she is very afraid of reading books by women, because she is afraid to discover what is really going on inside them. The world of men is largely the visible world that we all live in. where is the world of women? “The way they managed to be practically ubiquitous, but not at all here, was constantly alarming,” she notes. And then she seems to see through this visible world – her older female relatives constantly question his veracity, saying things like “this is more than it seems at first glance” and so on, and she becomes curious about this alternative point of view … at the same time, her emotions become more distinct, so she can interact with and absorb women’s stories without being completely absorbed by them. As you know, Simone de Beauvoir said: “Man is not born, but becomes a woman.” This state of becoming is frightening and exciting – you want so much to know what lies ahead and you can’t wait to get there, and yet sudden hints of what awaits you in the store makes you return to your quilt with a pattern of rosebuds. and take the lid.

Cashier 19 looks like a quest – it literally contains many questions – but refuses to offer any simple conclusions or messages. Was it your intention, as in the books that the narrator holds dear, in the novel as a whole, or in the form of the novel, to give some indirect answer?

I am pleased to hear that it looks like a quest, which means that it has energy. There is something incredibly uplifting and liberating about asking questions. With every question I ask myself, others, about life, mine, theirs, now and in the past, etc., the Grid slides upward, freeing up more space in my psyche, allowing me to perceive more. This is the essence of the questions – not in order to get answers, but in order to expand consciousness and gain the courage to go further, further and further into life.

In one of the book’s most memorable moments, the narrator offers a biographical reading of Anne Queen’s strong class-based methods. There is also a wonderful line when the narrator speaks in a more psychological way: “Sometimes I wonder if my penchant for clever ideas was actually a form of passive aggression.” I was wondering if you had any idea what factors played a strong role in shaping your own style or sensibility?

The entire book is a study of the factors that influence style and sensibility. I was especially interested in the idea of ​​”promise”, and that time in life, on the threshold of adulthood, when everything that happens is aimed at assessing one’s potential. This is a very inconvenient time. To be so measured for a future that unexpectedly and paradoxically precedes you. You have your own personal desires, dreams, and special gifts that you probably keep secret, so then your self becomes divided and you start guiltily downplaying essential aspects of yourself because they are precious to you, that’s you. indeed, but they have no economic value, and it is horrible to see them openly and regularly vilified. The realization that you will have to make a living without having the slightest idea of ​​how you are going to do it over and over again, without doing something that you cannot digest or understand, is depressing and very scary.

Tell me about a piece of art, literature, or music that was important to you while writing this book.

I didn’t write very well for a while. I’ve been writing for a long time, when Pond came out, and something about the writer’s confession must have made me feel uncomfortable, over and over again I got in my way. It’s like when a monkey tells a centipede how many legs it has – the poor thing cannot move. I left for Madrid for two weeks and one morning, after two hours of writing nonsense, I went to Queen Sofia to see an exhibition of Dorothea Tanning’s work. It was a retrospective, so it was possible to identify aspects of the experience that haunted her throughout her life as a woman and as an artist, and being a young girl on the cusp of femininity was one of them. It was incredibly powerful to see the horror, excitement and power of this transition. I was also fascinated by the way she portrays fantasy and reality in one shot, and how her approach to this changed as she got older – in earlier canvases she juxtaposes them and later combines them. The relationship between fantasy and reality is something that has always interested me, and Tanning’s paintings prompted me to explore this in Cashier 19 by various methods. I think that eventually, as you get older, you will realize that they are not at all different from each other.

Why do we need the Goldsmiths Prize?

Reading this question immediately reminded me when I was a kid and I wanted to win a year’s supply of Garibaldi cookies, and all I had to do to get a chance to win the prize was to explain in ten words why Garibaldi cookies were the best of the dishes. … peace. The answer was obvious, and I fell into a state where I was trying to come up with something great – in the end I managed to calm down, quietly muttering, “Just because.”

[See also: Leone Ross: “Age is not a withering – it’s a revolution”]


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