No Lease on Life/ Lynne Tillman/ Guy Mannes-Abbott The Independent 30 April 1998
While my fellow fruitiers were scattered between Ecuador and Sweden, I was able to visit archival regions unexplored for years. Principally I was in pursuit of a clean manuscript from a similar period as this which I want to restore to its original 78 subtle, molecular, daring fragments and, well, see. It got overrun by the immediate receptivity and success of my e.things to be straightforward about it, and though those grew out of much earlier actual experiments with all short forms, nevertheless I now see they were also directly enabled by the work on this novel manuscript for its tautness and the danger, to misquote a later e.thing, that it lived…
“Tillman is a writer of rare intelligence who knows that in writing a story, “the form of its telling will be part of its meaning”. She wants to challenge complacency, to “unconventionalise”, in the ultimate hope that we can “think beyond our limits”.
So. A short review like this needs to be read and disseminated otherwise it’s pointless. The Independent, may they bathe in saffron waters, were always a bit patchy with their online upping. I didn’t notice for too long, and literally prompted by over generous correspondents for copies, started to pursue now and again. It was tricky for their tech-team to prioritise upping something months or years later, and this attempt failed while one or two others succeeded. Archivists, or writers who write through archives and keep an eye on what the archive is to a writer, keep them too! (I can’t tell you how flattered I’ve been by enquiries about my own archives, for this reason.) I only ever had a photocopy until I found this fondly nibbled single hard copy during the absence of my colleagues.
“Her new book asks the question of how we should articulate the experience of living in one of the world’s major cities at the end of the 20th century.”
I would refine my own words (above/below) now, but I trust the mind of this person that assembled these then. It was a rare fully-millennial novel I thought, amongst a lot of chatter about such things then. Of course it takes a literary culture with big perspective to know or notice or act on either. So this was a rarity to find in Britain. It would be very interesting to re-read or just read it again now. I have a copy but you will find it very hard to get one, especially in the UK. However, some of Lynne Tillman’s other titles have been reissued to much critical fanfare, notably American Genius, A Comedy, reviewed by Brian Dillon at 4Columns recently. For example.
“No Lease on Life embodies those urban battlegrounds where everything is always at stake, where space, privacy, and reflection have to be fought for, their possibility fiercely insisted upon amid chaotically overwhelming reality.”
The UK edition was published by Secker and Warburg who, perhaps, didn’t quite know what to do with the book here? No disgrace in that; they published it after all, but sometimes it takes interior association or passions, nuanced know how, nuanced know who, the instrumentalising of the getting-it, to connect to others who get-it, these kinds of things, no? British publishing had become so heavily corporatised, turgidly single-brained by 1998 that this might be the thing. If you doubt that, look at how healthy it has become now, comparatively, with a successful outside to a larger turgid corporate mainstream that doesn’t and can’t get anything, and when it picks up on really smart or actually ground-breaking writing it does so late, of course, and sometimes kills off the author’s internal trajectory, which necessitates risk as well as a sanctuary to write that risk… The impossibility of holding both is all the inventive ground there is… Prolificness helps with that, btw, but I did use the word brilliant. And risk.
Anyway, I think I have undone any good that I might have achieved by flagging up this lovely book, which I feel I should re-read now, but trust the GMA of 1998 with my life too, and so demand, not politely suggest, that No Lease on Life is re-published!
Here is an OCR’d pdf of this little review; Lynne Tillman No Lease on Life Guy Mannes-Abbott The Independent 30 April 1998