At our Book Group meeting last week, we discussed 'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie. Unfortunately it wasn't generally liked and, interestingly, we found ourselves discussing our perceptions of the author almost as much as the content of the book. Of course Rushdie has had a higher profile than most authors, but I do have to confess that my knowledge of an author (however slight), or the story of how a novel was inspired and created, can influence my approach to their work.
This weekend I attended the Charleston Literature Festival. I had booked just one talk on each of the three days of my stay and hadn't been adventurous in my choice. The sessions, then, were entertaining and informative, but not particularly challenging. But there was one surprise: Edward St Aubyn. I knew nothing of him or his writing, but my friend she hadn't got on with the one book of his she had tried. He spoke of his new book alongside Esther Freud and they proved interesting foils.
St Aubyn, with a drawling voice, and eyes fixed to the floor or some distant corner of the book tent, seemed at first to find attending such an event beneath him. But, as the session continued, it became apparent that he was ill at ease with making himself available for analysis. He writes about things he cannot bring himself to talk about, he explained when the interviewer wanted to cross-examine him about the autobiographical content of his novels. And the process of producing the books seemed to be quite tortuous. Revealing a wry, self-deprecating humour, which was more and more apparent as the session continued, he explained that he had to lock himself away in a windowless room, painted dark blue, in order to attempt to complete the books at all. He was an intriguing character and, while I am not still not immediately drawn to his books, I feel now that I should at least give them a try.