“I don’t think, even as an author, that I have knowledge to give to readers. Philosophers might and scientists can. It’s possible for me to express something that you can agree or disagree with, but certainly you will have heard it before. So I don’t think the ‘what’ distinguishes a good novel from a bad one but rather the ‘how’—the aesthetic quality of the sensibility of the writer, his craft, his ability to create and communicate.
I don’t have a philosophy of life, or a need to organize its progression. My books are not constructed to ‘say anything.’ When I was at college, in every literary discussion there was always such an emphasis on ‘What does he say? What’s the message?’ Even then I felt that very few authors had anything to say. What was important to me was ‘What does it do?’ This refutes, of course, the idea that the message is the objective of a novel. In fact, any ‘message’ becomes part of the texture, stirred so much that it’s as negligible as a teaspoon of salt in a large stew. Think of the number of artists who have done still lifes—a view of a river or a vase of flowers . . . there is nothing about the choice of subject that is going to startle anybody. What will distinguish one still life from another is what the artist brings to it. To a certain extent that is true of the novelist.”