The Wheeler Centre is indeed a wonderful institution to have in Melbourne. Thanks to the Bracks Government and the Wheelers. It’s becoming a regular thing in May for it to piggyback off the Sydney Writers Festival with sessions from visiting authors making their way down South as well as visiting the harbour city. Makes sense, Australia’s a long way for them to come. Good for us Melbournians anyway. We got to two talks, both on the same day. Emily Wilson at lunchtime and and Jennifer Egan in the evening. They were both great.
I read Emily’s translation of The Odyssey earlier this year and have written about it here. Since then I have been following her on twitter where she is very active, posting interviews and sometimes debates she is having about different approaches to translation in general and to translating Homer in particular. All very interesting and stimulating. So it was great to see her in person. And she didn’t disappoint. She was interviewed by the author and critic, Alison Croggon who did a great job. These sessions depend upon a good interviewer as well as an articulate author. We got both.
It was disappointing that most of the men who asked questions hadn’t read Emily’s translation. Amazing that they feel able to pontificate about something they don’t know much about! During the session Emily revealed that when considering whether to take on such a massive undertaking she had wondered whether she had anything new to say. I’d heard her say that before, but she also told us that to help her decide she’d looked at some previous translations of a particular section of The Odyssey and decided that yes, she did have something new to offer. I asked her which section she had looked at when she decided she could do it better. She laughed at that and said it was the Cyclops section. So I’ve been back comparing hers and the Fagles translation and indeed she does do it better. She makes the Cyclops more interesting. Which is what she says she wanted to do about all of the other characters in the poem. To not make it all about Odysseus. And she does do that.
I was also pleased to get my copy of the book signed. Not something that I’m very interested in normally. But I do think Emily’s translation is terrific. It brings the story to life and makes it so relevant. So, nice to have actually spoken to her. She reiterated that she enjoys getting out of the academy and speaking to people. Not sure that I’d be keen to sit and sign lots of books for strangers. But there you go!
Jennifer call me Jen Egan was also good, as was her interviewer, Michael Williams. I’d read Welcome To The Goon Squad ages ago, probably when it got the Pulitzer prize and I remember thinking at the time that it was just so-so. But after this session I went back and read it again and enjoyed it a lot, and could see why it would win such a prize. An interesting, and overall pretty harrowing really underneath the ordinariness of it all, depiction of contemporary American life.
Jennifer recounted exactly what led her to the story that starts the novel. There was a real incident that happened to her and she took that as her starting point. So very interesting about the whole creative process. The novel is made up of interlocking stories and she described how she became interested in each of the characters. This is something lots of authors say; that the characters sort of take over. I find it really interesting.
Jennifer was very open and articulate. Astonishing how some authors can be so open and informative about their work. She has a new novel out now, Manhattan Beach, that Joe has read and she talked about how she came to write this new novel and the things she researched. There’s a lot about diving in it and she spent a lot of time with men who had been divers and actually got into the old fashioned diving gear that she writes about. Sounded quit intense. The new novel is an homage to New York apparently. I may read it at some stage although I have such a very long list of novels on my to read list. This session was broadcast by the Wheeler Centre and so here it is. Well worth a listen even if you haven’t read the books.