Friday, April 17, 2009


Marlon James on Writing Love

Remember a few months back when I asked how to go about depicting love? So few books really do it. Fewer still do it well.

Maud interviews Marlon James, whose novel I raved about earlier this year, and with whom I'll be reading in a couple of weeks. Among her questions; how to write love.

There’s a belief that sex is the hardest thing for a literary novelist but I disagree: love is. We’re so scared of descending into mush that I think we end up with a just-as-bad opposite, love stories devoid of any emotional quality. But love can work in so many ways without having to resort to that word. Someone once scared me by saying that love isn’t saying “I love you” but calling to say “did you eat?” (And then proceeded to ask me this for the next 6 months). My point being that, in this novel at least, relationships come not through words, but gestures like the overseer wanting to cuddle. Or rubbing his belly and hollering about her cooking, or teaching her how to dance or ride a horse — things reserved for white women.

I think, as a writer, the important thing was to layer the relationship with complexity and contradiction. There were situations where I could have left certain storylines one-dimensional and gotten away with it. I think the relationship is gripping not because they love each other, or think they do (or not) but because even with such a horribly skewed dynamic, hearts do what they want. And people don’t always fit in the roles that have been assigned to them. But of course the relationship is doomed; any slavery love writes its end in its very beginning.

Risk sentimentality indeed. I'm tired of cynicism. It's easy. It's cliche. It's often unhelpful and far from creative.

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