Who is Your Favorite Novelist?

The summer between my sophomore and junior year was split between a two month party at Lavale University in Quebec, where mornings and early afternoons were devoted to learning French. The rest of the time was supposed to be for immersion in a French-speaking milieu, with students from all over North America. I had a convenient case of insomnia, and partied till midnite, and read Dostoyevsky till 5 am. I never much liked fiction that steered into scenic description or took long to reach intense character conflict. And I’m a slow reader. But I devoured almost 3000 pages of his four most notable novels in those two months, suffering from insomnia. If I hadn’t had insomnia, his novels would have given me it. His characters are lens on the deepest crevices of the pyche and their interaction displays the merciless exchange over right and wrong, freedom and fate, justice and mercy, ends and means and a panoply of dilemmas and crises all woven through the most engaging ficton I’ved tasted.

I stopped reading fiction long ago, but not before sampling most of the classics. No novelist engaged like Dostoyevsky. That summer felt like it was spent partly in 1975 Quebec and partly in 1870’s St. Petersberg.

One character in particular, I remember with the most vivid detail, almost to the point where I can reproduce each scene he was in, along with how he behaved and what he said, having read the book only once. It’s neither Myshkin, Dmitry, nor Alyosha, but a relatively minor character in the Brothers Karamazov named Kolya.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but Kolya was perhaps the most fascinating and “alive” character of all the Russian epics.

Kolya was one of Alyosha Karamozov’s young male followers who distinguishes himself with his precocious free-thinking and atheism. I don’t recall much more and I can’t locate the chapter in my copy, but I do recall he’s a leader and a bit of a legend for daring to lie below the railway tracks and have a train pass over him. Alyosha mentors him and tries to soothe his rebellious nature and find inner peace, if I’m not reading this in. Alyosha, BTW, is the youngest Karamazov brother. The saintly one. Ivan is the tormented intellectual and Dmitri is the sensualist.

Dostoyesky is in a league alone. Besides Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov, Zola’s Germinal tops my list. Zola was also a man of great conscience.

I’m a massive fan of George Orwell, politically and artistically. Never one to overload his books with emotional and characteristic content, which I appreciate. I’ve never been able to get into Dost. in part because it seemed too concerned with character and emotivity as a way to engage the reader. Of course, I may change, but for the time being I’m more interested in worlds than peoples.

Charles Bukowski would have to be the writer I have most time and respect for. A stuanch individualist as well as a sharp critic and observer of society and the people within it. A great poet, with a directness of expression, and seemingly flippant manner of writing, that can so easily pull you in and capture you. A great anti-poet, misanthrope, anti-academic, anti-intellectual, anti-literary writer.

He wasn’t afraid to expose his own problems on the page and admit his own prejudices and foilbles. Oddly, enough, I am almost in opposition to siatd, in terms of why we read and what we like. Poetry, emotivity, and people are some of the main reasons I read and write.

I can appreicate this comment. As much as I have a lot of time for emotion and personal expression and observation. I do realise the power and skill in dealing with ‘the fiction of worlds’ and planning a grand book and narrative that isn’t simply self-indulgent, but a thing that has been laboured over, engineered and shaped by precise artifice.

I wouldn’t think of this as odd - we write differently, we read differently. Que sera, sera.

Well, ideally you’d have a book set in both an interesting, provocative and satirical world (satirical in relation to this one) that also has fully developed characters and emotional engagement. Very, very few novels that I’ve read have managed this. In fact, I’ll bring up Sunset Song once again as the finest example of a book that balances the two aspects that I can remember reading. It really is one of the greatest pieces of modernist fiction available, and I’m surprised it isn’t more famous. I’m so fucking jealous of that book, partly because I’ll be 40 before I can write something as good.

Not to say my present work is bad, but intellectually speaking it’s a cartoon and it contains very little by way of genuine emotion. Nonetheless, it’s a smart piece of satire that is doing what I set out to do. Saying that, the two stories I so often refer to when talking about it - Brave New World and Rollerball - aren’t very emotive either.

Orwell was one of my first favorite novelists. His stories and essays were mercilessly critical of political sophistry and he wasn’t one for subtly. He sounded a clarion cry for how language was manipulated to rob it of its effect in political discourse to the point where words could, through brainwashing, take on the opposite of what they were intended to mean. “War is Peace”, as the subject is a necessary condition for the predicate.

If you like Orwell, you’ll probably like Lewis Grassic Gibbon (a Scottish early 20th century socialist) too. Similar politics, similarly blunt and uncompromising style of writing.