Mathews Brooklyn Rail Interview

An interview with Harry Mathews in the Brooklyn Rail. He discusses the new book, a little of his past, his impressions of Queneau (“I think he had very catholic tastes in literature, but he was strict in deciding whether a method of writing was Oulipian or not.”) and Perec, and writing in general (he’s moving onto more poetry next).

Two interesting statements, first about the narrators of his books (which incidentally are not explicit, so consider yourself forewarned that this is a kind of spoiler for his novels):

My Life in CIA is the first time that someone called Harry Mathews is the “I,” though in fact all of my novels are written in the [first person]. The Sinking of Odradek Stadium has two first persons because it is an epistolary novel, so there is a woman and a man. And in the others, in The Conversions, the “I” was a mulatto, in Tlooth it was a woman, in Cigarettes the “I” turns out to be a masochistic gay writer, and in The Journalist the “I” was a man—but obviously I don’t live someplace in central Europe, as that character did, and I’ve never had the problems that that character had, at least not in that particular form. My Life in CIA is the first time that I’ve ever written a story in my own name.

And then about character in novels:

As for characters, I think that very little is needed. You just give a hint and the reader will make up the character on his or her own. I had to include at least an illusion of novelistic psychology in Cigarettes, and illusionistic is the word. I learned how to create that illusion, and it works just fine. I think situations are more important than plot and character. One thing that Ashbery and Kenneth Koch did in their novel, The Nest of Ninnies, was to insist there be no character development; this made for a very realistic novel because, as you may have noticed, there is very little character development in real life.