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Cluster index: Michelene Wandor

Passion framed by silence.

Michelene Wandor: ‘The Great Passion is clearly what we would call a ‘literary’ novel (a tautology! How could imaginative writing be anything but literary?). Useful definitions claim the literary as a novel which doesn’t race along on a plot axis, may be considered ‘serious’, perhaps belonging to ‘high’, as opposed to mass or popular, culture. It may garner prizes, possibly move at a slower pace than, say, a spy novel or a thriller.’

The pleasure of ferocity.

Michelene Wandor: These [stories by Malika Moustadraf] are harrowing; sexual prejudice and violence; unwilling prostitution; marital misery; cruelty to children and animals; the detritus and chaos of the domestic and urban environment, with cockroaches and decaying food.’

San Miniato

Michelene Wandor: ‘The
scent of tanning fills the air. Soft
leather curls round the nape of my
neck, a soft black leather jacket,
loose and cooling. It fits as if made
for me. I buy it and it is made for
me. My leather lover.’

Le meurtre.

Michelene Wandor: ‘The scene is set for a detective story/political thriller. The opening chapters are short, sometimes poetic, vivid, trailing possible clues and questions. As I read it, I expected Hercule Poirot to appear at any moment, twirling his moustache, gathering the cast together to solve the mystery, to point out the culprit, who is then turned over to the police.’

Strictly scrum.

Michelene Wandor: ‘For those who understand rugby, know its history and personnel, there will be riveting insights into the minutiae of who was chosen, who rejected, which managers did and didn’t do what. Haskells’ hero, Lawrence Dallaglio, appears at intervals, as an important influence. The book begins with a boat trip and a series of out-of-mind and scatological things happening.’

Twin cities.

Michelene Wandor: ‘There are some wonderful pieces. Ed Vuillamy provides a vivid picture of the kaleidoscope that was Notting Hill in the ’60s, made all the sharper by his personal anecdotes. Tom Dyckhoff’s essay on the O2 (Greenwich) is pointed and illuminating.  ‘

The last Mantegna.

Michelene Wandor: ‘In her will, Mrs van Hopper left me her library. As I went through the books, deciding what to keep and what to give away, I accidentally dropped a copy of Petrarch. Out of it fell a typed letter, addressed to a Count Alessandro Rietti. Three words were underlined in red: the names Isabella and Andrea, and the word “pearl”. The letter referred to a lost painting by Andrea Mantegna, a portrait of Isabella d’Este, the beautiful and powerful wife to one of the Gonzaga Dukes of Mantua.’

The marital subtext.

Michelene Wandor: ‘”State of the Union” is on the opposite, more public, side of the marital spectrum: Tom and Louise meet in a dreary, virtually empty, Kentish Town pub before they visit a therapist to discuss their marriage. I watched first because a friend recommended it, and was gripped by the springy, bantering interplay of the dialogue, the marvellously intimate, subtle, nuanced close-up performances and the careful, unob(and unin)trusive direction. End of story? Well, not quite.’

Rankine’s uncomfortable citizenship.

Michelene Wandor: ‘This book does not make for comfortable reading; it may be cathartic for some, because of its passion. It may challenge others to think about their own ethnic place in their world. Some may find it too uncomfortable to confront. One reviewer called it ‘an unsettled hybrid’. It is also unsettling.’

Sequence, consequence and the random.

Michelene Wandor: ‘This collection…deserves to be read over time, starting at whatever page, or defying the publishers and reading the first (last) collection first, and the first (last) last. The idea of sequence has consequences and the random cannot solve the conundrum of how to read.’

Michelene Wandor: Two new poems.

From ‘burning sage’:

sage brushes blue-grey leaves

once soft leaves, staining my hands moth-wing grey
now waiting, furled, rigid, waiting to flare
into nothing

Mrs Dalloway. Episode two.

It is so nice to be out in the air. If I stand quite still, I can be a poplar tree in early dawn. Hyacinths, fawns. Running water and garden lilies. London is so dreary, compared with being in the country with my father and the dogs. I am a pirate, reckless, unscrupulous, riding on the omnibus up Whitehall, all sails spread. I am free…’

Mrs Dalloway. Episode one.

You have such a command of language. You can put things as editors like them to be put. If you, Richard, advise me, and Hugh writes for me, I am sure of getting it right. I already have a selection of choice phrases use – such ‘we are of the opinion that the times are ripe’. Something about ‘the superfluous youth of our ever-increasing population’. A phrase about ‘what we owe to the dead’. That sort of thing.

Dramatising Mrs Dalloway.

Michelene Wandor: One must engage with the rhythms and the style of the original, so that the dramatising process remains faithful to these, as well as to the more obvious issues of story, etc. The consummate dramatiser is also a consummate critical reader, for whom part of the dramatisation is the challenge of including not only elements within the prose, but also, in a sense, re-reading the imperfections, the contradictions, the lacunae, even, in the text. This is essential because, of course, one is reading from the present, with one’s critical insights, whatever they are.

Can Creative Writing really be taught in British universities?

Michelene Wandor: Writer-teachers are not being paid to write, but, rather, to teach. Their imaginative output (poetry, drama, prose) is now called ‘research’, within the academy, while still being deemed ‘literature’ outside it. It’s an issue which CW avoids