Author Imprint

S2017 E2 | CLIP

Novelist Hari Kunzru on Experimenting with Writing

In his novel, “White Tears,” Hari Kunzru fragments time, place, and narration. He talks about building trust with readers so they aren’t put off by complex fiction.

AIRED: April 06, 2017 | 0:03:12
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TRANSCRIPT

I had this idea

that what I wanted to do was

to make history porous.

>> Mm-hmm.

>> I wanted to try and write

in a way

through the consciousness

of the central character.

The narrator's this young guy

called Seth, and as he

goes further into this mystery

and as he becomes more

and more kind of infected

by the past, in a way,

his secure position

in the present begins

to break down, and there are --

I had a lot of fun, like,

writing bits where

he's wandering around

in New York,

and there's a sort of

sponginess to the city,

and you see versions of it

that are older versions.

You know, one minute,

he's in Tompkins Square,

and there's the dog park,

and everybody's,

you know, on their laptop.

And then, the next minute,

it's rubble,

and there are people

burning fires in trash cans.

>> Mm-hmm.

>> And as things go on,

he is sort of

simultaneously present

in all times,

and it's a hallucinatory,

kind of frightening for him,

sort of experience of slippage,

but it was great fun to write.

I mean, it gave me an excuse

to really try and push the prose

into some interesting places

and to kind of break it down.

>> And I think, you know,

people are so scared of that.

I think readers can be

really scared of anything

that's formally challenging,

anything that's nonlinear,

nontraditional.

But I felt like it

just pushed me forward.

I was trying to figure out

what was happening,

but I also loved it.

>> I think, if a writer

is good enough to take

the reader by the hand

and say, "Look, you know,

we're going to the strange place

now, but trust me.

You know, there's a reason for

this."

I think people

get put off by complexity

when it feels like it's

for its own sake --

>> Right.

>> When, you know,

it's some kind of,

you know, macho showing off.

You know,

"Now I'm going to write

in Latin."

You know, but I think you can do

quite complicated things,

and if people don't

experience it as avant-garde

or as off-putting,

or as difficult, they will go

right along into the strange.

I mean, you look at all sorts

of techniques now that

are vanilla things in writing,

kind of filmic things

about flashbacks

and all sorts

of ways that we write now

without thinking

that were avant-garde,

modernist,

off-putting things 50 years ago.

And, you know,

I think, as a writer,

I want to entertain,

and I want to communicate

with the reader.

You know, I have no special

interest in kind of saying,

"Look at me. I'm very clever."

I want to tell you a story.

>> Mm-hmm.

>> But I don't see why I should,

you know, not use all the tools

in the box to do that.

>> Hari, congratulations on the

book, and thank you so much for

joining me today.

"White Tears" by Hari Kunzru

is out now.

Pick it up.

This is "Author Imprint."

I'm Lisa Lucas.

Thanks for tuning in.

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