Birnbaum v. Lasdun

Robert Birnbaum interviews novelist, short story writer and poet James Lasdun. Among other things, Birnbaum asks about Lasdun’s “fascination with disconnected, deeply introspective, unreliable” narrators. Lasdun responds:

I don’t see myself writing another one from that particular point of view. I think I have that persona out of my system…. But I like complicated moral predicaments for one thing. And I like to look at — all novelists like to look at aspects of human fallibility. And for me I find it easier to look at it in the first person. To find the things that I don’t like about society or politics — to find the sources of them in an individual psyche and preferably in my own psyche. If I can understand myself, I can say something about how these vices or flaws or whatever play themselves out in a larger way. And so for me to write a story about a hero who is perfect or almost perfect is just not interesting and just not interesting for me to read about those kind of heroes either. I don’t see them as being unreliable narrators …. not in the sense that I think that term is normally used. Which I am not entirely clear about anyway. To me it conjures up a kind of tricksy relationship between author and reader that is deliberately manipulative and deliberately playing a game with your reader. And you have plotted out how you are going to play that game and when to spring your little traps and all the rest of it. It couldn’t be further from the way that I write or from the kind of thing I like to read. It’s more that they are struggling to tell a difficult truth about themselves and that it’s a complicated business and in the process of doing it certain things that they might not have acknowledged or recognized come to the fore of the narrative.


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