Monday, 2 November 2009

Andrew Sharp's Blog

The Ghost's of Eden by Andrew JH Sharp is featured in the current cycle of Exclusively Independent. This is a superb epic about love, medicine and cultural identities with a huge African and European cast which concludes on the shores of the Indian ocean.

Here's a word from Andrew, on the novel, and being included in EI.

What’s it about? It’s the first question a writer is asked concerning their in-progress novel. Is it a thriller - should beta-blockers be taken before opening? Is it a romance - will my mascara be ruined? Crime fiction? Must I look for clues? Is it funny – will I laugh out loud on a train? That would be embarrassing. Is it literary fiction – will I look erudite if I pretend I’m reading it?

I used to reply that it’s ‘about two men who fall in love with the same woman’, or ‘it’s about a missionary’s child who kills his friend’, or ‘it’s about a herd boy who becomes a bandit’. If I wished to give a one word answer I would say its theme is ENTRAPMENT, or perhaps OBSESSION, or LOVE – and hope that I did not sound pretentious. The truth is that the edifice of a novel is wide enough and deep enough to encompass many interweaving stories and more than one theme. Full length fiction can hold dozens of textures and resonances; enough to display the far reaches of the imagination.

Now that it’s been published The Ghosts of Eden is no longer my own. I can be contradicted on what it’s about. Readers are keen to tell me what they see, what the experience of reading the novel meant to them: ‘about cross-cultural misunderstanding’, ‘a portrayal of dyslexia’, ‘a polemic against religion’, ‘a story about the dawning of faith’, ‘all about buried grief’, ‘very funny at times’. And then there was someone who said, ‘there’s a comma missing in the first paragraph on page …’ For other readers’ views see the People's Book Prize. We bring our own preoccupations to our reading.

Virginia Wolf wrote that ‘the writers who have most to give us often do most violence to our prejudices’ and suggested that on the first reading of a novel we should not impose our own designs on the author. So we should let Jane Austin be Jane Austin, Dickens be Dickens and Dan Brown be Dan Brown. It is only after reaching the last page, she said, that we should give names to the impressions that the book has left; and then we can turn to others, in reading groups or in reviews, to compare our own experience with theirs.

Wolf went on to write that the reader becomes part of the creative process: by their approval, disapproval, encouragement, the writer can listen and learn, and so improve their art. By helping to promote new books to readers the Exclusively Independent initiative can proudly claim to be helping to spin that potter’s wheel of creativity in which the writer finds that the reader has their hands on the other side of the piece on the wheel, and so is helping to shape their work.


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