Reading Perlmann’s Silence and, coincidentally, a recent LRB review* by Jenny Diski of Alison Winter’s “Memory: Fragments of a Modern History” makes us muse about the reins writers do or do not keep on their personal memories as they ride the beasts into the territory of imagination. It’s a truism that many a first book is autobiographical, and we have experienced the difficulty of wrenching a memory away from the anchorings of “what really happened” to set it free in imagination to become a short story or a novel. How do you take the “me”, with all its attachments and special pleading, out of such memories? Assuming that there is an autobiographic element in Anita Brookner’s many novels about introverted young women often involved in the art world, as Brookner is, it is a marvel that she keeps us interested, but she does. So does Jean Rhys. Maybe it’s just a question of technique, of keeping at writing long enough to develop that second skin that lets you look quite coldly at your own experiences and at the same time still feel the surge, the bite, that tells you there’s a story in it.
* vol 34 no 3 9 Feb 2012)