Adam Thirlwell interviewed by Susan Tomaselli.
In the British literary establishment (and let’s face it, named Granta Best Young Novelist not once but twice is ‘establishment’), Adam Thirlwell is something of a Trojan horse: ‘Good novelists (or, maybe more honestly, the novelists I like) are often not just avant-garde in terms of technique; they are morally avant-garde as well.’ His novels – Politics (2003), The Escape (2009) – use Milan Kundera and Philip Roth as templates, and feature digressions on Osip Mandelstam, the Bauhaus and Saul Bellow, to name but a few. With their narratorial interventions and other unconventional stylistic quirks, they flaunt the rules of sexual comedies. But Thirlwell is a master of turning ideas upside down and inside out, no more so than in his novella Kapow! (2012), a response to the Arab Spring that uses typography, fold-out pages and wordplay to mimic the noisy confusion of events as they emerged on Twitter and YouTube. It is the missing link between Tristram Shandy and the Lissitzky designed For the Voice. Thirlwell has always been interested in the international and the experimental, and his Miss Herbert (2007), named for an English governess who may or may not have been Flaubert’s mistress, and may or may not have helped him translate Madame Bovary, is his understanding of the possibilities of translation through a miniature history of the novel (or, an ‘anti-novel, with novelists as characters,’ as he puts it). It’s a theme he continues to explore in Multiples (2013), a ‘project for multiplying novels in any language,’ inspired, partly, by Augusto Monterroso.