Non-Standard Text

Writers are, I believe, undecided on whether becoming a ‘standard text’ represents a great compliment to their novels, or an honour to be treated with some suspicion. Paavo Laami is said to have fallen into a tantrum upon hearing that his novel, East Atlantic Foxtrot, was deigned to be ‘compulsory reading’ on the national literature syllabus. ‘Just what I need,’ he fumed, ‘a generation of schoolchildren cursing my prose’. ‘No one should be made to read my work,’ wrote Gretchen Haldt, whose 1986 work Consider Me Quasimodo suffered a similar fate: ‘nor am I, in any shape or form, a “classic”. The very thought of this sickens me…’

There are other writers, however, for whom appearing on a syllabus would represent a career-high. This was definitely the case for Laurence Havello (1949-2011) one of the few novelists to openly seek ‘standard text’ status. Friends and family tell of how Havello was ‘desperate to see his books studied at schools’. So desperate, in fact, that he took to including sample questions at the end of his novels, or adding footnotes which drew the reader to themes and leit motifs. Of course, by making the writerly process so transparent, Havello took away a good deal of mystery which attracts people to literature. In the words of one critic ‘Havello sought to simplify work that was already simple: a complex process, yielding completely pointless results’.

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