Ian McEwan is killing me


I don’t know about you, but reading people’s posts and seeing them publish their books, is beginning to make me wonder whether I have what it takes and sometimes its truly depressing.

From NYT Review of "On Chesil Beach"

Credit: NYT Review of “On Chesil Beach”

Depressing because I have begun editing my novel and realised that I am putting too many commas where they shouldn’t be and that I have to chop so much text that it feels like I am sitting in an abbatoir about to take my pet cow to the proverbial sacrificial ceremony.

Okay… I know that I have what it takes, but the constant introspection is killing me…

And you know what depressed me today? I mean seriously depressed me to the point where I considered more than the usual  double dose of lithium? And this wasn’t just “feeling a bit down” but more a serious journey with Dante into Purgatory kind of depressed?

Ian McEwan.

Ian Bloody McEwan of “Atonement” fame – I hate you. I effing hate you!

I hate you like a younger brother who is always having to look up to his elder sibling in sheer wonder at his perfection. You know the hate borne out of love? Well that kind of hate.

I was reading his classic, “On Chesil Beach,” bought this last Saturday, and I have practically finished it. I effing bloody hate him. He writes what I want to write, the words flowing in the exact order, syntax in all the right places, thoughts that strike chords much like a Wagner piece does after a few whiskies.

Feelings are expressed in such a way as to make a reader, especially a sullen, cantankerous writer like myself, feel like his manhood has been shrunk to miniscule proportions as he is standing next to someone with  tackle of elephantine, no mammoth, proportions. Ego shattered. Brain reduced to a puddle of … well enough of that.

Do you ever question your own abilities?

I do, and generally the real soul searching questions involve copious amounts of stimulants like caffeine, cigarettes and once those have taken effect then alcohol to dull the pain of reading geniuses playing with language and emotions as if they were taking a stroll in the park.

The end result is that I know I have what it takes, but I cannot see it in a sober state, and bloody Ian McEwan is not helping.

Is this how writers are supposed to feel?

One hears of the pain that writers have to go through (and if you are anything like me, you have felt it too).

The inexorable pain of reading something so exact in composition, poignant, pensive and perfect makes me want to retch. It’s as near a physical retching as I can get without actually throwing up. The letters on the page get read, pass through my optical nerves and proceed to be assimilated through synapses and hit chords of memories that in turn evoke feelings, which then proceed to make me sick by their beauty.

And it’s not just bloody Ian McEwan! Julian “the pain of reading my books is pleasure” Barnes is another culprit who makes me retch. The list would get longer but there is only so much any normal person  can handle!

So I am depressed because, in a wildly perverse way, I love inflicting pain on my metaphysical body by reading.

Do you ever feel like that?

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17 comments

    1. Thanks for your supportive words! I am sure that’s the case but I think you know what I mean… Some authors can just hit perfection on the head in one go, or so it seems – utterly annoying, while us mere mortals have to tinker away…

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  1. The only people I’ve ever known not to be crippled with private doubts about their abilities have been completely crap with no exceptions.

    That’s not to say that people who are crippled with self-doubt are any good, of course, and my own major concern is that I’m actually just as awful (at everything) as I secretly know myself to be.

    Long as you don’t turn to the bottle it’s probably a positive thing – drives you to improve if you’re never satisfied, innit blud.

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    1. Aaaah words of wisdom! Good to hear that I am not alone in this journey through books and bottles. Actually, its the envy that gets me… I get so jealous of some authors… “thou shalt not covet thy neighbours’… book?” – is the feeling sometimes.

      Thanks for commenting – I appreciate it! I will keep off the booze for a couple of days and see how it works…

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  2. Thanks for following Life Measured in Coffee Spoons. I absolutely love and empathize with this on a daily basis. Only five minutes ago I was hyperventilating over feelings of inadequacy while reading “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”

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    1. Likewise! Aaah a kindred spirit. I was just chilling and reading Barnes, and now I feel he is killing me. The only upside I can see is that if I condense my writing by half, I may just have enough half decent words possibly in the right order to, maybe, write something passable. Too many variables so the depression continues unabated…

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      1. I haven’t read any Julian Barnes. I’ll have to check him out. Commence lamentation on how there aren’t enough hours in life to read all the books on my list.

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      2. Imbibe alcohol with said lamentation… Effect enhanced and affect quickened. Barnes is one of our great Brit writers… Erudite, poignant and knows how to tell a compelling tale… You won’t regret reading him.

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  3. Sometimes it helps just to not read others. They’re doing their thing; you’re doing yours, right?
    What’s weird for me is when I get jealous of my own writing — or, OK, not jealous, exactly, but when I look back and don’t remember writing something but it’s in my handwriting and I don’t remember how those words came to/through me, and I also don’t remember that I wrote them. (I wonder to what extent McEwan et al feel that way, at least at times.) Writing is weird.

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    1. I have had that feeling once or twice so I envy you. Sadly, I cannot divorce myself from the beauty of language while reading and I am constantly wondering how the author thought of putting that particular word after the previous one. I know they felt it, thought it, or maybe it just came out, no matter. Reducing it to a mere whim or thought, in my eyes, just doesn’t do it justice and I have to appreciate it… A green appreciation full of envy and amazement. I am reading Hilary Mantel right now and having the same thoughts…

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  4. Actually yeah (original blog). Forget him. One Mc**** is all this world needs. Time to move on. Whatever happened to that cool stuff from the 60s and 70s when no-one gave a fuck about ‘hard surface’ prose? That inspires me to be courageous, not bloody Mc****’s whatever he does so perfectly. By the way, anyone think apart from the variety of subject matter he covers, all his books read exactly the same? Time to relax, make it suntory time……

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    1. Firstly, apologies for my late reply. No excuses, just apologies. I get what you mean, that hard surface prose is so now and I agree he writes on the same themes, however, he does have a way of saying that one thing and in my view, that is his saving grace. It takes one sentence to make a writer great… That, at least, is my take. Thanks for the comment!

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