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This report is taken from PN Review 95, Volume 20 Number 3, January - February 1994.

Letter from Australia Rod Beecham

Robert Dessaix is the producer and presenter of Radio National's 'Books and Writing' programme. When interviewing Vikram Seth at the Melbourne Writers' Festival in September, he told his audience about an earlier conversation he had with the Indian writer by telephone from Melbourne to London. 'When it was over,' said Dessaix, 'and obviously not realizing that he was still transmitting to the colonies, he remarked to someone in the London studio: "He was really quite intelligent"': I was too far away to tell whether Seth's contribution to the general laughter at this anecdote was entirely comfortable, but the subsequent interview was conducted in a pleasant and professional manner - so much so that even by the end you had no idea whether Dessaix and Seth were good pals or hated one another.

Seth was probably the star of the Festival, certainly in terms of drawing power. He was always urbane, articulate and interesting, very well-read, highly cultured and, above all, clever. He regards himself well, as an author of celebrated books is entitled to do, but I was struck by the impression of cleverness because it accords with my own feeling about, in particular, The Golden Gate. That is an immensely clever book Seth is nothing if not a craftsman (in the nineteenth-century manner) - but hollow at the centre. We enjoy the performance, we admire the skill, but what, in the end, has been said? Very little, I suspect. It will be interesting to watch the ...

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