Blake Morrison Meet the Author


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Blake Morrison

Rebecca Jones talks to poet and author Blake Morrison about his new book The Executor, about friendship, marriage, mortality and reputations.


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Now it's time for Meet the Author.

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Blake Morrison has packed

a lot into his career.

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A former newspaper literary editor,

he became a full-time writer in 1995

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and has gone on to publish

award-winning novels,

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poetry and nonfiction.

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He's probably best known

for his bestselling memoir,

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"And When Did You Last

See Your Father?", which was turned

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into a film starring Colin Firth.

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So, perhaps it is entirely

fitting that his latest

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novel is about writers.

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The Executor follows a man

who becomes the literary executor

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of an old friend and poet,

and the moral dilemmas he faces

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when he uncovers unpublished

and potentially explosive material.

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Blake Morrison, The Executor raises

a whole host of ethical issues,

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not least of which is what's more

important, the right

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to privacy or the right

to freedom of expression?

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What was the starting

point for the novel?

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I suppose I have been very conscious

in recent years of a lot

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of controversies about writers

publishing stuff that

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other people perhaps,

members of the family,

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feel is painful, exposing,

that they don't like.

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Sometimes they seek legal action

to stop such a book,

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or whatever it is, appearing.

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So, I think there are moral

dilemmas for writers.

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And I think these days the rights

of the written-about seem

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to have come to the fore.

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So, it is an old argument.

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But I think there have

been lots of cases,

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particularly biographies,

that have come out where

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members of the family

really objected to them.

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This question has

become fresh again.

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Because what happens in this book

is that the wife of the poet objects

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to some of the poems

that the executor, Matt, has found.

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I suppose what is at the heart

of that is what's more important,

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the wishes of the living

or the wishes of the dead?

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Where do you stand?

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Is it a case of publish

and be dammned?

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Well, I'm a bit softer on all that.

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I like to think I would consult

members of my family

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if something deeply sensitive

was about to be published.

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And generally ask people.

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But then I know writers

who are quite brutal about it.

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You know, they assert their right

to write whatever they choose,

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and to hell with it.

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I think it's a balance to be struck.

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I think it's a matter

of individual conscience.

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But certainly there are cases

where you are going to expose other

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people by something you've written.

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And they're not always going

to necessarily go along with it.

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I think have been lucky,

the memoirs I've written,

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I haven't had a huge comeback

from my family, lots of people

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complaining or anything like that.

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But I am conscious of cases where

that sort of thing has happened.

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There's a further twist

in this book, if you like,

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in that it's not just the reputation

of the wife, it's actually the poet

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himself which could be damaged.

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I was very struck by one particular

line, where you wrote,

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the life was one thing,

the work another.

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A nasty man might

still be a great poet.

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And looking at the, I don't know,

alleged misdemeanours

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of someone like Kevin Spacey,

I wondered how possible

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you thought it was to separate

the art from the artist?

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I think, again, if you look

to the history of writing,

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you're going to come across many

authors who were not

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very nice people.

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I'm very conscious in my lifetime,

because I met him, what a bad

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reputation Philip Larkin developed,

the poet, after his death.

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And yet he seems to me one

of the great 20th-century poets,

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and nothing that he wrote,

for me, is tainted by the fact

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that he was accused of racism

and misogyny and so on.

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So, I think this is

a really difficult one.

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Could I now watch a Kevin Spacey

film and not be troubled,

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knowing what I know about him?

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I like to think that maybe, yes,

the integrity of the film doesn't

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suffer from what we know

about the man.

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But I would assert it all the more

in the case of writers.

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Yes, unless, I suppose, it implies

tacit approval on our part,

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if we continue to read their work,

watch the films etc?

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Yeah, I think we can

like the work and condemn

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the person for their actions

in their private life.

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But the art, the work, it does,

for me, always stand a little

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apart from the life.

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There's another line in the book

where the poet says there's no

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point being a poet now,

if you're white, middle-aged,

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middle-class and English,

you are a dinosaur.

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I did just wonder if there

are white, middle-class,

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young English male poets watching

this, you telling

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them to give up now?

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No, I certainly wouldn't do that.

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You have to allow for the particular

guy who is saying this, Rob,

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who's just got to that point

of becoming a grumpy old man.

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He feels a bit sidelined.

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He's had enormous success

early in his career,

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and now he looks around

and is a younger generation,

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a generation of people where gender

and ethnicity are perhaps different

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from his, and he misses

the success he had.

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So I think you've got

to allow for his prejudice.

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No, I think any young, talented poet

should just keep going.

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Robert Pope also says at one point

poets should not get

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involved in politics.

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Is that something that you think

writers should stay out

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of, current affairs?

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No, I think there can be a voice,

I think in my own writing I've

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sometimes done something that

could count as a sort

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of political intervention.

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Because I think sometimes

works of fiction, poetry,

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or different kind of nonfiction

journalism can shed light

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on a public issue, a political

issue, where journalists,

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and newspapers, and the media

generally have presented

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it in a certain way,

along comes a writer

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with a different kind of take,

a different sort of insight.

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So, I've always had this

argument with WH Auden,

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who famously said poetry

makes nothing happen.

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I think in a very subtle way,

poetry, like anything else,

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can make things happen.

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And you have had experience of this

as well, when you wrote your book

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about the James Bulger trial,

"As If".

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And I know in that book you said

he felt that his killers shouldn't

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have been tried as adults,

and he received quite a lot of abuse

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for that view, as a result.

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Did that make you more cautious

about getting involved in speaking

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out on topics of the day?

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I don't think so.

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I mean, I recently reiterated my

belief that ten-year-old boys should

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not be tried in an adult court.

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Which is, you know,

whatever horrible crime

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that was committed by the two boys,

and I'm not denying that,

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I watched that court case,

I was in that court,

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and I just felt the whole

process of little boys

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being tried in court was wrong.

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I continue to say that.

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I don't think I'm very

popular for saying that,

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and my son said to me,

don't go on Twitter, dad.

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You don't want to read what they're

saying about you on Twitter.

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But, you know, writers have to be

prepared to stick their neck out

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occasionally for something

they believe in.

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And I do believe strongly that it

age of criminal responsibility

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in this country is too low.

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It's much lower than the rest

of the world, really.

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Since 2003, you've been Professor

of Creative and Life Writing

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at Goldsmiths University.

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And again, in the book,

Robert Pope articulates the view

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that creative writing

cannot be taught.

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Which is interesting,

given your position.

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What do you think?

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I think it can.

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Do you?

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Well, put it this way,

I think skills can be learned,

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undoubtedly skills can be learned.

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Writers can be helped to develop,

they can learn certain techniques.

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Yes, in the end, perhaps talent

is innate, talent is crucial too.

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But I totally disagree

with Robert Pope on that one.

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I've seen how students have

come along, been helped,

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gone on to be published and so on.

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They've acquired skills that,

without going on a creative

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writing course, they might

never have acquired.

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You're probably still best

known for your memoir,

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"When Did You Last See Your Father?"

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Do you mind the fact that it's

a book that you wrote back in 1993

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that people still most

associate you with?

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It would be nice if I had a big

success with something now.

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But, you know, it's inevitable

and I'm very touched, and moved,

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when people still come up to me

and say thank you for writing

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that book, it helped me

grieve over my father,

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or whatever they say.

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It does bring us back, I suppose,

finally, to literary legacies,

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which is where we began.

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Do you ever wonder how

you will be remembered?

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I try not to think about it too

much, because it feels as if,

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if you're worrying about that too

much at my age, you're kind

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of writing off whatever

time is left to you.

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So, I haven't appointed

a literary executor.

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I've no idea what will happen after

I go, and what will be left behind.

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And I try not to think

about it too much.

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Blake Morrison, really

good to talk to you.

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I've enjoyed it.

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Thank you.

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Thank you.

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Rebecca Jones talks to poet and author Blake Morrison about his new book The Executor.

Blake Morrison is known for his memoirs And When Did You Last See Your Father? and his study of the murder of James Bulger, As If. His new book is his most literary novel and is about friendship, marriage, mortality and about reputations - of both the living and dead.