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This review is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

THE GREAT GAME John Haffenden, Novelists in Interview (Methuen) £11.95, £5.95 pb.

If 'critic' is the sharpest term of abuse in Waiting for Godot, then I wonder what Beckett/Estragon could make, if provoked, of the literary interviewer. So often this itinerant critic, in pursuit of that elusive point where life and art can be seen to meet, traps his subjects in a web of rationalizations and self-inflicted platitudes. Thanks to John Haffenden's sensitive questioning, informed attention to particular novels, and direct and un-toadyish manner, which gives a genuinely conversational tone to these pieces, this book is different. There is even, at the point where Haffenden persists with Golding over his refusal to discuss Darkness Visible, a fictional (Jamesian?) plot in embryo. No doubt the book will be trawled for easy seminar fodder, or highjacked for a literary version of Trivial Pursuit. (Thus: which writer has a fig tree outside his house? Which has a Punch puppet?) Still, as Angela Carter points out, curiosity can serve a moral function, and respect for a writer's work provokes a twin respect for his/her comments on it - with Russell Hoban's warning that some interviewers' questions are 'like asking the eggshells to explain the omelette'.

Can we (should we) expect anything in common between these fourteen novelists of the 1980s? One important qualification is that four of them - Bradbury, Golding, Murdoch, and Pritchett - made their reputations in the 1950s, or earlier, and differences between the decades do show here. But clearly, Haffenden's choices are more than an arm's length away from ...


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