Frog-hunting in Ecuador
Knife-fighting in Las Vegas
Arranging to be abandoned on
a desert island the size of a football pitch
Tibor Fischer’s first novel, Under the Frog (1992), received a grand total of fifty-six rejection letters before being taken on by the small, independent publisher Polygon. It was subsequently short-listed for the Booker Prize and hailed as “a delicate serio-comic treasure” by Salman Rushdie and “ferociously funny, bitterly sad and perfectly paced” by A. S. Byatt. That book, the story of the Hungarian basketball team in the run up to the 1956 revolution, was an extraordinary debut, followed swiftly by The Thought Gang (1994), a tale of a philosophizing bank-robber. As Melody Maker magazine put it, “Fischer pisses on Self and Amis.” Given those quotes, what else could he do but write a novel about a sentient pot, The Collector Collector (1997) and a collection of short stories, Don’t Read This Book If You’re Stupid (2000), published in the United States as I Like Being Killed, and hailed by London’s Evening Standard as a “brilliant, bolshy collection.”
The Believer caught up with Tibor Fischer as he prepared for the publication of his most recent novel, Voyage to the End of the Room (published in the United States by Counterpoint Press in January) in which the narrator travels the world, has a lot of sex in Barcelona, and visits the island of Chuuk, all without going anywhere.
THE BELIEVER: Your novels feature several loners who end up surrounded by people. I wondered whether this was the condition of the writer.
TIBOR FISCHER: Maybe it’s the condition of everyone (but they don’t realize it). How much you get through to others and how much they get through to you is one of the big questions of life, and ergo, literature. There’s no question that being a writer dislocates you from society to some extent, simply because of the time you have to spend on your own. Writers’ personalities vary enormously. Some are extremely gregarious, some ferociously secluded. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote somewhere that the only common denominator he could spot in the writers he knew was that they all had beautiful wives.
Being a novelist is like being a decathlete: you have to be reasonably good at a number of events in order to succeed. That’s why many intelligent, articulate people (poets, journalists) can’t write novels. Weakness at dialogue can be compensated for by storytelling ability or good descriptions of snow and so on, but you have to be fairly solid all-round.
But as for temperament, the only common denominator I can see is that good writers are all obsessive, rather unpleasantly determined, and ruthless. Rather like Terminators, they will not stop and they will not give up. Mind you, I suppose that’s true of good footballers, good salesmen, and good physicists. It’s best to stay out of their way. Never, never, never fuck with a (good) novelist.
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