The author on meeting Pynchon, why Kafka is unbeatable – and the trouble with Trollope
The book I am currently reading
I recently visited the old mansion where Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks was set, that great house with the words “Dominus providebit” inscribed over the front door, and was immediately inspired to download the novel on to my iPad and plunge in. The pleasure of re-reading Buddenbrooks was so deep that I resolved to embark on a year of re-readings, which is why I now find myself about halfway through the first book of Don Quixote, in the terrific Edith Grossman translation. This is proving to be a more complicated encounter. On the one hand, the characters of Quixote and Sancho Panza are as beautifully realised as I remember them, and the idea of a man determinedly seeing the world according to his own vision, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, feels strikingly contemporary. On the other hand, how many more times are the Knight of the Dolorous Countenance and Sancho going to get beaten up and left in pain in various roadside ditches? The “greatest novel ever written” – I voted for it myself once – turns out to be just a little bit repetitive. To make the reading easier, I’m breaking it up and reading other books by other authors after every couple of hundred pages of Cervantes. At present, that interposed book is David Grossman’s wonderful A Horse Walks into a Bar.
The book that changed my life
Truthfully, the books that changed my life were books I wrote myself, not books I read. When Midnight’s Children was published in 1981 I was hoping that a few people who were not friends or relations of mine might read and like it. I was completely unprepared for what happened. It gave me the life I had always wanted, a writer’s life, and for most of the 1980s I lived that life with real gratitude and happiness. Then in 1988 another book changed my life in another way. But in spite of everything that followed the publication of The Satanic VersesI remain proud of it. And strangely I’m grateful for it, too. Its troubled pathway has taught me a lot about how to live, and what to live for.