Chaired by Bidisha
Bidisha kicked off the event by pointing out the similar theme present in both books, that of a preoccupation of authority. This features heavily throughout both novels.
Peter felt like the two guard within the novel were the human face of the security of the building. They did not serve a purpose, the main gate is rocket proof and you can only access it through unique codes and fingerprints, so know one is gaining access that shouldn’t be. Even when starving, the guards still have a sense of duty to the authority and don’t leave their posts. In a way this makes the book very Kafka like as they have a sense of the naivety of a child but there is still a sense of ridged logic. This is probably a very recognisable touch, that the reader can relate to.
The same question was then put to Philippe, he started his answer by saying that we live in a very strange world, we create monsters within our own lives. We kill gods, we kill ideology and we kill government. Sometimes we ourselves are the walkers within a big company. In the novel, Philippe wanted to translate the fear of being totally lost in a big city and there to be no limits between the city and the company. This idea of fear and distress are a more important in the era we live in, compared to Kafka’s time.
Bidisha put the question of how should the novelist move forward and what is the ultimate future of the novel?
Philippe was first to respond, he said that the novel should not be about the reader, it should be about the complexity of society. I always have the impression that, I write like an animal and use my instincts when writing. It can be very difficult to compose a novel like that and that is when other forms such as poetry and plays come into the equation. Literature is not a smart form and the main principal should to give your time to a novel. When you open a book you escape through the reading of it.
Peter agreed with the complexity of society that Philippe was describing. He added that he believes the novel will flourish as more people are wanting to slow down. We are all speeding our way through life and spent so much time on smart phones and our brains are not evolved to deal with that. A novel is a place where you can feel human again and you can connect with people in society that you would not normally connect with. If you want to live a long life, a novel is your medicine. The novel is a kind of escapism in a good way, that you are able to relate to. I could not imagine myself not reading fiction, it is my medicine to make me feel human.
The relationship of visual aides and words was brought up and idea that you could use pictures to help create the basic ideas of the novel. Philippe believes that books are a translation of our dreams and nightmares. All the novels he has written, he has started with a picture to help inspire the novel. When you are a writer, you are the master of the world, you are not restricted unlike filmmakers.
The same question was then put to Peter. When Peter was young there was no books in his house, so he was brought up with images and this has influenced his work. In this age of the novel, so writer is writing in structured chapters, they are writing strings of scenes which are turned into chapters of a novel, This shows how the novel has evolved over time.
Time for some audience questions.
How have you experienced being translated?
Philippe’s book was written in French and was translated by Daniel Hahn. Peter’s book was written in Dutch and was translated by David Colmer.
Peter started his answer by pointing our how much of an honour it is to have your book translated into English. It is really hard to get novels translated into English. Peter has read the English translation of the book and was very impressed and believes the book is better in translation. Philippe agreed that it is a huge honour to be translated into English. He added that when he is writing he often thinks how his words will travel all around the world, through other people’s words.
Both stories have been influenced by Kafka, what Kafka texts would you recommend?
Since childhood, Philippe has been unable to finish a novel of Kafka, he finds that after 40 pages it sends him to sleep. However he points out that this could be to do with the French translation and that there is a new translation out which he plans to try. Peter was much the same and he stated that Kafka wanted his novels burned and not to be published, perhaps it would have been better if this happened. His stories are brilliant and he would highly recommend them.
With that an interesting hour was brought to a close.