By Randy Rosenthal
Translated from the French by Teresa Lavender Fagan
Seagull Books, 2013
Since 1994 Florence Noiville has been a staff writer for Le Monde, for which she has written unique gems of literary journalism. Unique because Noiville has a peculiar method of interviewing writers. First, she insists on meeting authors in their home or most intimate setting. She talks with them for hours, goes home, and lies on her bed. After letting everything settle, she writes a short piece about the author, incorporating only a few direct words spoken in the interview. This method results in delightful nuggets of literary art.
Literary Miniatures collects twenty-seven of Noiville’s interviews, which profile some of the best-known writers of the twentieth century. Highlights include: Saul Bellow “railing against the dictatorship of the PC,” Mario Vargas Llosa referring to literature as “the crazy woman of the house,” Carlos Fuentes’ declaration that it is in the “international novel” that literature finds “for the first time, the profile of what could be a humanist twenty-first century,” and Milan Kundera’s musing on the frailty of words—the author used the word Bohemia instead of Czechoslovakia because the composite word was “too young (untested by time).” Imagine what he would have to say about writers using the words “email,” “google,” and “texting.” Kundera’s section might be the most interesting in terms of composition, because in order to stick with his self-injunction against giving interviews, he and Noiville search his books to find answers to her questions.
My personal favorite, however, is the profile of Don DeLillo, in which he muses on how his first book Americana would probably not have been published today because it was “overwritten” and “needed a lot of work.” He says that publishers at that time were “more tolerant” and “gave writers they considered promising a chance.” Today they are in a hurry, which explains “why there are writing courses” and why “the market has become so competitive.”