Friday, March 17, 2006

Patrick Giles

It's happened to me twice now. Googling a friend's name only to find that they're dead.

Patrick Giles wrote to me four years ago. He said he liked what I wrote. We exchange emails, chatting about mutual interests. He passed on links to examples of his published work and countless recommendations of novels. It seemed we both loved the same authors and reservations about the same big name novelists and critics. He expressed regret that it wasn't easy – more or less impossible – to publish the sort of things we both wrote or wanted to write. Keith Gessen suggests it was a long-standing regret. There were also the not-so-mutual interests. I'm nonplussed by opera and musicals. He loved both. And I can't forget when he spoke of a baseball pitcher who "when he bends over to pick up a ball you can practically tell how dilated his sphincter is". I told him I preferred cricket.

After a break of some time, I heard from him again, this time in a comment on The Elegant Variation. I knew he had cancer and told him I was pleased to see from the comment that he was firing on all cylinders. But he said the ravages of the illness made the post more intemperate than it might otherwise have been. The comment was then elevated to a wider public by James Wood who quoted it in his defence of Realism in the New Republic, recently reprised in Prospect Magazine. I was touched that he asked me for advice on how to reply. I hadn't a clue. I'm not sure if he ever did write a response. In his last email on July 24th last year he said his health seemed to be improving, but he died on October 13th. I found out on Wednesday only because I picked up a book he once reviewed and wanted to find the link again.

On this page of condolences, you get the sense of the man and his emails from the picture alone. Most of the comments include variants the phrase "I never met Patrick in person". The same goes for me. But if it wasn't for this extraordinary friendship medium, not one of us would have had got even this far. And that's something for which I'm grateful.


  1. Anonymous8:51 pm

    If it didn't (write a reply, or maybe even if he did), someone should.

    "Surely realism, seen in the largest sense, is not a set of stylistic conventions but an impulse that begins with narrative itself."

    Doesn't this take all sorts of things about "narrative" for self-evident?

  2. Anonymous8:53 pm

    Excuse me, "If he didn't..." obviously.

  3. Anonymous10:57 pm

    There was a piece in n+1, as you may know):



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