Nick Hornby and The Believer’s Vendela Vida
NY Daily News “Page Views” blogger Christopher Young’s recap of last week’s Nick Hornby event:
Recently, readers of “The Believer” had the chance to choose a novel for him to read — and that novel was “Mrs. Dalloway,” the classic meditation upon one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, who is preparing to throw a party.
Tonight, at a special event at the 92Y — organized by the Unterberg Poetry Center — he came to give a talk presenting his findings.
He couldn’t get into the modernist classic, compared by some to the finest works of Faulkner or Joyce. It was Hornby’s first time reading Woolf, but the problem wasn’t so much her notoriously difficult prose — Hornby described the book’s composition as “quite beautiful” — it’s the “moments of condescension” that Hornby struggled with. Woolf, he argued, is too misanthropic to be enjoyed. He pointed to several examples, including one incident in Mrs. Dalloway where Woolf describes someone as “Nondescript,” suggesting that she had created and described a character paradoxically not worth describing — that she is saying there are, in effect, people who aren’t worth the effort.
Empathy, for Hornby, is key to good writing. He pointed out that while “Mrs Dalloway” makes a point of acknowledging the essential unknowability of another’s consciousness, it is the privilege of literature to be able to try. Woolf’s snobbish approach, Hornby argues, has her failing before she’s even begun.