Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Gunpowder Soprano

The Gunpowder Soprano is the current working title of what I have been calling "the Haydn book." I post it here so I don't forget, because my memory isn't as good as it once pretended to be. What sort of progress have I made on this novel, aside from thinking up a new working title? Not much, that's how much. I have thousands of pages of research material to read through, pages of notes to write, etc. I know the story, but the telling--the assembling of the narrative--will be sort of complex and will demand a lot of details and ideas about voice and character. I think I'll spend most of the writing time just inventing historical personages. Meanwhile, I'm writing Mona in the Desert. In that book, the narrator is talking about how he wanted to be an archaeologist when he was a kid. How lucky that I was just at an exhibition of the treasures of Tutankhamen, eh? The archeology talk will segue into a bit about how the narrator wanted to be an architect when he was a kid. All of this leads into ideas about design/creation and discovery/history and fiction. Though books about novelists writing novels are dull dull dull, so I'm not leaning heavily on this stuff. Anyway, you'll see what I mean, maybe, at some point.

I continue to read Brothers Karamazov. It's a pretty great book. A real mess of a pretty great book. On page 600, Dostoyevski introduces a new character and spends pages on exposition. I have no idea what the point of this section of the novel is, but it's great stuff. Also, for the first time the book has stopped feeling so frantic. Dostoyevski is a writer whose characters are always going somewhere, always in a state of high emotion. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is forever wandering around St Petersburg. In The Idiot everyone is always jumping into carriages to go to their vacation homes, or jumping into carriages to go back to their homes in the city, or jumping into carriages to race off to casinos. Dostoyevski is not the guy to read when you want characters sitting in pastoral settings, having calm and languid moments.


  1. Or maybe The Exploding Soprano. But I like the word "gunpowder" and it makes more sense if you know the story. The Gunpowder Opera is also in the running.

  2. Or maybe The Exploding Opera? Or even Così Esplodere Tutti? Too obscure? Oh, all right. A Tale of Two Husbands, though. That's got possibilities. But no.

  3. Or perhaps The Gunpowder Sonata. I like the procession of vowels in that one, the parallel trisyllables and the shift of accent from first syllable to middle.

  4. Any title with the word Exploding in it is awesome, but I love your original title most.

    I have a feeling Dostoyevsky probably felt the same way in writing that exposition stuff. "Hey, I have no idea why I'm writing this, but it's good stuff."

    Writers are odd ducks, aren't they?

  5. Yeah, I think Dostoyevski just found himself writing, going off onto tangents and then thinking, "Yeah, that's what I wanted! I'll expand on that a bit and get back to the story later." The English critics used to complain that Russian novels had not plots, only characters. Russian critics used to complain that English novels had no characters, only plots. It's pretty much true that one doesn't read a 19th-century Russian novel for plot. You read them for the great lines: If they drive God from the face of the earth, we will hide Him underground! or The classics have all been translated into Russian, so the only reason to teach Latin and Greek in school is to oppress the students.