Dutch author Jan van Mersbergen is on a blog tour to promote his new book Tomorrow Pamplona, visiting a different literary blog each day and answering one question on each site. Today he visits my blog, and I asked him the following question:
Q: According to Peirene’s reading guide, you’re renowned for creating silent characters like Danny. Could you talk about why you do this, and what sort of effect you hope to create by having the main character speak so little?
Here’s Jan’s answer:
This also caught the attention in Holland: The Silent Character. Although I like to talk, sometimes more than I like to listen, I don’t like reading a book about a character that talks too much, or a writer that talks too much. Writers that explain too much. I like novels that are like movies, written in the old Show, Don’t tell tradition. For example: A soap opera-actor smoking a cigarette and saying a line about the drama in the movie, about his feelings (I’m happy to find some rest now after all what happened with my dad in France, a week ago blablabla…’) or an actor just smoking, and keeping his mouth shut. Like Clint Eastwood. That’s the choice. In writing you need some information, some images, some lines, but not too much. The story and the plot and the characters can make a novel. So I don’t really want to make a silent character, or reinvent it. I just don’t like a lot of words to say something, in a book. My new novel is written in the I-form, told by the main character. So he has to talk a lot… 50 thousand words. It was a hard struggle to make his voice a decent one, according to my standards.
To see the blog tour schedule and read Jan’s answers on other blogs, you can go to the page hosted by his publisher, Peirene Press.
There are 5 comments
I am new to your blog, Andrew, and it looks wonderful! I enjoyed reading your interview with Jan van Mersbergen. I liked very much your question about the silent characters and what van Mersbergen says about it. I liked very much his reference to Clint Eastwood.
I also love the fact that you are reading Norman Davies’ ‘Europe : A History’. It is one of my favourite books on European history. It created quite a controversy in North America when it was published. Davies has also written a history of the UK called ‘The Isles’. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Davies’ book.
Welcome, and thanks for the kind commments! I didn’t know about the controversy about “Europe”, and so far in my reading I haven’t come across anything that I’d call controversial. I’m still in the Middle Ages, though, so maybe will have to wait until the more modern parts. I liked the way he deconstructed the idea of “Western civilisation” in his introduction – although come to think of it maybe that was what ticked some people off in North America??!
Glad to know that you are enjoying Davies’ book. You can find an interesting article on the controversy here
Interesting article. I have noticed that Davies is unusually brutal in dealing with other historians’ work – something I found quite refreshing as a reader but which would naturally make him some enemies among the reviewing classes. And as the article notes, upsetting the traditional Western bias is quite a big thing to do. The criticisms don’t seem too fair from the way they’re described in the article, but I haven’t got to the more modern parts yet, so I’ll see what I find when I get there. Thanks for the link! Good to know some of the context. And I’m reading the paperback, so presumably the minor errors it refers to have been ironed out in that edition.
Glad to know that you liked the article, Andrew! Yes, upsetting the traditional Western bias is quite a big thing to do and it must have taken Davies a lot of courage to do that.