Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Maja Hrgovic - Zlatka

I've long felt that happiness is the great unexplored territory of literature. That exhileration as well as strife, comfortable warmth as well as harsh uncertainty, could make for an interesting and fresh way of approaching fiction. There are notable examples of good writing about happiness - Dave Eggers does it for a few pages in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and I assume there are many authors that I haven't yet discovered that have also done it well - but for the majority of authors it seems anathema to their creative process. The same, it must be said, goes for readers for whom the idea of a book about happiness is about as interesting a prospect as a novel about the process of making cheese.

But I remain convinced that there is space there for an author to come along and do something exhilerating in this field. I have today been reading a sneak preview of the forthcoming Granta 115 which is entitled The F Word and is all about feminism in the 21st Century. Not a subject that one would necesarily consider natural ground for writing about happiness. But I came accross a wonderful piece by a Croatian author, Maja Hrgovic, which confirmed again for me the belief that writing about the positives in life can, when done well, be a transcendent experience. There is a passage, when the narrator is with a new friend at a club, which particularly stood out.

"The people around us were just a moving background, extras in a movie starring Zlatka and me. I got carried away. At moments I felt rapture, thick and saturated, clotting in me, somewhere in my lungs, in my oesophagus – I had to open my mouth wide and yell into the noise, anything, just to let it, this something, come out of me."

Fantastic prose. It's a fantastic piece that I enjoyed thoroughly. I look forward to reading more from Maja Hrgovic in the near future.

9 comments:

HelenQP said...

Lovely! We're taught in creative writing classes that "a story is a war" (Janet Burroway ca. 1984) and that the reader will only be interested in conflict, strife, etc. I like the notion of happiness as a worthy topic. the question is whether it can propel a narrative in a sustained way, or whether it serves best as a seasoning amid conflict-driven prose...

Sam Ruddock said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Helen. I'm aware of the popularity of Janet Burroway's thesis but am not so sure I agree. A story can be anything it, or it's author, wants it to be. Take, for instance, The Canal by Lee Rourke that was published earlier this year. A book about boredom, in which mostly nothing happens. And yet, by dint of it being interesting and well written, it has received a warm critical reaction.

As for reader's interests, I don't think it is a sign of a healthy artform if it thinks only of the common ground around which readers can congregate.

I hope that in my life, I shall sometime have the chance to read an interesting book all about happiness. It it the aspect of life all human's strive to achieve, that in itself must be fertile ground for a writer of greater talent that I.

HelenQP said...

This is a real question for me implication-wise as a fiction writer who studies Buddhism. If everyone in the world were enlightened, would there be any need for stories?

Sam Ruddock said...

Fascinating question, Helen. What do you think the answer to that is?

HelenQP said...

I have no idea! I'm caught myself between a history steeped in christianity, a tradition it which stories are elevated to the point where they're an integral part of the concept of heaven, and a new practice of Buddhism, which as far as I can understand, in the end eliminates all stories/concepts. I am very drawn to Buddhism and scared at the same time, and I mourn the possible loss of stories. Of course all this is theoretical. Enlightened? Me?

Sam Ruddock said...

That's fascinating,Helen. I had never thought Buddhism through to the end of stories, but now I'm a little scared too!

If you ever resolve this conundrum please do share it with me, I'm fascinated to learn more.

HelenQP said...

I think I may address this some on my blog, WritingNurture. In case you want to check it out. Cheers

Sam Ruddock said...

Am now following your blog and hoping for more interesting discussion soon!

HelenQP said...

cool, thankx!