Time Out São Paulo

Ian McEwan: interview

We spotted the author at the Flip literary festival in Paraty, and we pounced.

Thanks so much for speaking to us – we were hoping to have caught you as you passed through São Paulo, so this is even better. Have you ever spent any time in São Paulo?
This time, we came straight to Paraty from the airport, but we spent a day there last time. But for a city of such an immense scale, a day is so little. I do remember how long it took us to drive out of the city. We went alongside one of the largest slums I've ever seen. I know that these favelas often conceal intricate social hierarchies and orders – you just see chaos, and you think only misery, but I know it's not only misery. There has been some amazing work done on self-organisation in favelas. I took a lot of photographs – it made a big impression on me.

Have you had the chance to read much Brazilian literature?
Well, knowing I was coming, I thought I'd go back to basics and read Machado de Assis. I found it quite unlike contemporary writers in English fiction – you're hearing a tone which is absolutely of its time, but there's a sexual, unbuttoned quality which you wouldn't associate with writers of the same period in Britain. So it was an odd merger of something located very precisely in time and place, but quite disorienting when people are identified in the story as having a concubine. At the moment when he was writing that, it was probably a scandalous thing to admit, even for the narrator of a novel, in England. He's also a great observer of people – and of silences. Marvellous accounts of tongue-tied people.

By Claire Rigby


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