While In the middle of Sprig Muslin and The Group I had been in a second hand bookshop and unable to resist buying a copy of The Paris Review Interviews; Women Writers At Work which I promised myself would be the next on my reading list. Fortuitously, one of the authors interviewed is Mary McCarthy and she was writing The Group at the time of the interview. Reading her discussion of it as a work in progress just hours after I had finished reading the book itself was fascinating; it gave me a lot to think about.
She describes the book as fundamentally about progress. I had read it as such a personal sketch of each character's life journey that it was a surprise to find the intent behind the book had been so impersonal. However, I saw at once that this less sentimental approach makes all kinds of sense to the reading and understanding of The Group. It ties everything together thematically. I also think it makes McCarthy's writing all the more impressive to have been able to breathe such lifelike qualities into characters that she was using for such a particular purpose.
There is plenty of interest in this interview not about The Group. Just as she says The Group is about "progress", McCarthy labels another of her books as being about "doubt". It was intriguing to note that such broad yet particular themes appear to be at the base of various of McCarthy's novels. It is not clear whether she set out to write about a particular emotion or idea, or whether she subsequently categorised her novels thus upon completion.
Dorothy Parker is another author who is interviewed in this collection. I have long been a fan of her writing, but found I couldn't read this interview all at once. Her self-deprecation comes through so clearly that it becomes rather heavy to bear. It is quite a similar experince to watching Madmen: utterly addictive but completely wince-worthy at the same time. It's like eating something delicious yet very sharp and sour; even though it is enjoyable it is also impossible to go for too long without a breather.
While it is difficult to read all these interviews in sequence, they are probably all going to be fascinating pieces. I must confess that even in the middle of McCarthy's interview which I adored reading, I put it off for several days to read a crime novel - something completely out of my normal sphere. It distracted me so thoroughly that I had to finish it before returning to the interview. I will venture to read more of the interviews one at a time in the coming months.