Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Author Drawn to Moments That Define One's Character Paul Watkins's Fiction Takes Place in a World Where Honor and Morality Are Prized

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Author Drawn to Moments That Define One's Character Paul Watkins's Fiction Takes Place in a World Where Honor and Morality Are Prized

Article excerpt

"Literature," wrote Vladimir Nabokov, "was born not the day when a boy crying 'wolf, wolf,' came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels: literature was born on the day when a boy came crying 'wolf, wolf,' and there was no wolf behind him."

Storytelling stems from a desire to enchant those huddled around the campfire. Such enchantment runs through Paul Watkins's five novels.

"The responsibility of the fiction writer is to tell a good story," says Mr. Watkins in a recent interview in Boston. "And if you push the pursuit beyond the absolute necessity to engage the reader, you find yourself on extremely shaky ground." Watkins has been engaging readers for almost a decade since his grand entrance in the world of letters at age 23. His first novel, "Night Over Day Over Night," which was nominated for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize, announced an author drawn to the near-mythic moments that define one's character. "I place my characters in worlds where words such as honor and morality are not sneered at," says Watkins, expressing a measure of earnestness and humility. "I inhabit an Old Testament world inside my head when I am writing," he continues. "My characters are forced to make moral decisions, and the punishment for those who buckle or give in is absolute. "And when I emerge from that world into the true chaos of everything around me, I am able to navigate my way ever so slightly better." Such an approach to the novel places Watkins's work outside of the "ennui-we-trust," or "I-put-the-I in solipsism" brands of fiction purveyed by many young writers today. He acknowledges imagination and experience as inextricably interwoven, before suggesting that there exist in fiction higher goals than verisimilitude. "The arena in which the world of our imagination plays itself out does not care if a story is real or not," Watkins says. "When we are being told a story, we're thinking in pictures. We're not playing a truth-or-lies game. …

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