Beginning to rethink Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem is one of those writers whom I admire but don’t pretend to always “Get”. On and off, I’ve begun (re)reading his books which I’ve got on my shelf and I’ll probably try and get hold of his comic as well. I think I interviewed him for The Third Alternative (as it was then) for Fortress of Solitude but I can’t find the issue so I’ll assume it was my imagination.

Gaby Wood of the Observer has a great interview with him for his new book, Chronic City, in which he moves his attention to Manhattan from the previous attention to Brooklyn where he grew up.

What I had not appreciated fully was how much of a psychogeographer of his area that he is. Like Iain Sinclair or Peter Ackroyd on London, he delves into the known and personal histories of the city. New York become something tangibly different and deeply personal. I rather suspect that each reader sees a different city, one resonates differently to them. It’s not just a reader response but the way that he blends the personal and public.

There is something else that also intrigues me about him and also Michael Chabon (which I think China MiƩville also does) and that is to write fiction that is aware of genre but not to worry about writing genre fiction. He happily moves through sf and the Western, film, music (Observer article on his dancing career here) and literature without appearing to worry about the boundaries. All that really matters is the best way to narrate his Story.

The publication of Chronic City has made me come back to him and to re-enjoy him. No doubt, like a favoured record, I’ll come across books that I really don’t ‘get’ or enjoy but perhaps I can take that in my stride.

Front Row interview (iPlayer so it’s on a limited time – sorry!)

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