Thursday, January 01, 2004

Too nice for words? 

It's unfortunate that the Telegraph is ridiculously slow at putting articles up on the web, but I finally got a hold of a profile of Alexander McCall Smith from December 21. When the link goes live, I'll put it up, but frankly, it's a rather strange piece. The interviewer seems to try so hard to be snide about McCall Smith's considered decision to write about common human decency and the human condition rather than to expose the seamy underbelly of Edinburgh like Irvine Welsh is wont to do:

McCall Smith has little time for the grittier fiction of his peers. He shudders when I mention DBC Pierre, who won this year's Booker Prize with a novel containing 555 expletives, and looks positively revolted at the thought of Irvine Welsh, a fellow Scot whose novels depict life on Edinburgh housing estates: "I've got no time for that. I've got complete contempt for that. I feel that writing is a moral act. I feel that those who portray an aggressive, vulgar, debased attitude towards life are conniving in that life, and I think publishers should reject them."

Are they not simply representing reality? "I think Irvine Welsh has been a travesty for Scotland. It portrays a notion of Scottish miserabilism. But most people in Scotland aren't like that. They are like the people here, tonight - they don't behave like that." (In fact, most people in Scotland are probably not quite like the people in our restaurant, who are spending pounds 50 each on dinner.)

Now, I can see there's a bit of a dichotomy present, but making such concerted attempt to widen it smacks of what I think may have been the ulterior motive behind this profile: gee, is Sandy really too nice for words, a little out of touch with what's really going on in the world? Um, no. Besides, if McCall Smith were to ever fathom trying something along the lines of Welsh or Pierre, it would be ridiculous. Not his style, not his voice in the least. This, on the other hand, sums up his voice quite handily:

Does he believe fiction can enhance people's morality? "Of course it can. What we read contributes to the construction of our moral universe. I think that if we dwell on aggression we shouldn't be surprised when people turn to violence. I suppose, as a novelist, I'm interested in people's little struggles through life. It sounds very trite, but in the case of Precious Ramotswe I'm interested in her trying to lead a decent life."

Which is as it should be. There are plenty of writers who want to wrestle with the bigger struggles; why not do what interests him? Of course, what do I know, I think the man's a genius.

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