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Charles Palliser Biography - Charles Palliser Comments:

reader yourself writing novel

On the evidence of my first two novels I would suggest that what motivates me as a novelist is the idea of surprising the reader into a new perception of something. So The Quincunx at first appeals to the expectations the reader derives from his or her knowledge of Victorian fiction and social history, but then gradually undermines these expectations with its distinctively modernist elements—the irony, the moral neutrality, and the final impossibility of ever knowing the truth for sure. Much more straightforwardly, The Sensationist fragments and "defamiliarizes" the everyday experiences of living in a big modern city, using jump-cuts, elisions, and highly metaphorical language to stress the strangeness of so much that we take for granted. In terms of subject matter, I seem to be interested in people in extreme situations—a young boy starving in the streets of London in the 1820s or a young man under pressure and at the edge of a breakdown in the 1980s.

I suppose I'm reacting against the idea of the novel as an unproblematical reflection of shared experience. Instead I see it as a tool for making discoveries—not just on the part of the reader, but also myself. For one of the strongest motives that drives me to write is out of curiosity, and I write in order to find things out. In the most obvious sense, writing lets me research things I don't know about already. (I sometimes think it's no more than an excuse to read the books and visit the places and meet the people I am already interested in.) But in another sense, writing enables me—or, rather, requires me—to find out things I already know. It's a way of forcing myself to think hard about difficult issues, to try to go beyond the evasions and half-truths that I'm satisfied with in my own life but which are ruthlessly exposed within a novel.

Writing fiction, moreover, is one of the few occupations in which you never have to repeat yourself. Every challenge is new and so the solution to it is unprecedented. And unlike most other pursuits, the challenge is the one that you've created for yourself. There's an interesting paradox there, and I often think of Houdini having himself elaborately manacled, coffined, and then dropped into a river. Like Houdini, you have to want to go on taking risks and making things difficult for yourself. Otherwise there's no point in doing it.

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