Author Piers Paul Read talking to W. J. Igoe
Piers Paul Read, whose novel The Upstart is just published, asked if L wanted tea or coffee. I said coffee. He went off to make it.
Read's work .room is not in his home —"I get involved with the children" — and is agreeably functional. Beyond the window there is a patio and there seemedto be trees about. There was an electric tvnewriter and the one book I noticed was an international thesaurus. On the desk, I saw later, lay a copy of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.
A couple of times a midget piebald cat, of tendr weeks, tried to commit suicide by escaping into the road outside. Read disclaimed ownership of the creature but displayed patience and, I thought, charity by restraining it from sudden death under wheels.
He is 32 and has written five novels and radio and television plays. His first book, Game in Heaven with Tussy Marx, was published when he was 25. Among Catholics who can read, notably Graham Greene, Read is considered the most talented writer of his generation.
Presently he is working on his first book of non-fiction. Alive, an account of a plane crash in the Andes after which the survivors managed to live for more than two months by eating their dead fellow travellers.
Publishers from all over the world competed for the story. The survivors, former pupils of a school run by Irish Christian Brothers in Montevideo, insisted on choosing a writer for themselves. Read's publisher sent him to Uruguay and with four other authors he paraded, as it were, before the judge
survivors. He thinks they chose him because he is a Catholic and like themselves a former pupil of a Catholic school.
The third son of the late Sir Herbert Read, the poet, critic and historian of art, philosopher and novelist, Piers Paul Read was educated at Ampleforth. Married, with two children, he prefers living in England, at the family home in Yorkshire or in his own home in London.
Younger looking than his years. self-contained and with a look or humorous solemnity,i much his own man, he does not answer questions quickly.
asked him. as I asked his older colleague, Heinrich Boll, a couple of months ago: Do you think the Church has a future?
He looked mildly startled, grinned courteously, and said:
"It has a formidable past, hasn't it? We know that, don't we? Of course, I believe the Church has a future. But I can't read the future. The Holy Ghost looks after the Church."
He shrugged, apparently reconciled to letting the Holy Ghost get on with it.
What part did he believe men and women of his younger generation might play in the Church in future?
"I'm no good on committees, that sort of thing. I try to work in my professional organisation. As for my religion, I think it goes into my work."
That is true. Monk Dawson, for which he received the Somerset Maugham Award and the Ilawthornden Prize and which was a choice of the St. Thomas More Book Club in the U.S.A. could have been written only by a Catholic whose belief in the priesthood is as complete as it is unobtrusive. It is a book that could not have been written before Vatican 1I.
What about the priesthood today?
"1 believe," he said, "that many priests, too many, show lack of confidence in their authority that amounts to lack of faith. The Church, so far as I am concerned, must speak with authority. If it allows its authority to be eroded. it is not the Church."
What about Humanae Vitae?
"I believe that Cardinal Heenan said all that need be said. It was something like this. 'I cannot tell you it is right to
practise artificial birth control. 1 tell you not to permit your difficulties, your problems to drive you out of the Church.' That is what I believe."
"I believe Humanae Vitae counsels perfection. The Church can do no less. I wish we all could live by it but, you know, it takes two to make a marriage and we Catholics must not impose our convictions on others."
Does he believe that being a Catholic helps in marriage?
"Yes, of course. We believe that when we marry, we marry for life. Our investment in marriage is heavy: we are committed for good."
Has he strong views about the vernacular liturgy?
This question seemed to tickle him.
"Yes. When I first heard Mass in English I hated it. Now when I hear it in Latin I find myself nuzzled because the priest is talking in a foreign
language. 1 nave nao two strong views.
"But no more. I am at home with the vernacular liturgy."
There has been much criticism of Pope Paul's attitude to contemporary problems. About, for example. his refusal to condemn certain aspects of colonialism.
How does Read feel about this?
"For what my opinion is worth, and by coincidence it is shared by a friend with whom I lunched today, I believe the Pope is a maligned man. I think ours is a hopeless time to be a bishop."
"I do not mean that one should never disagree with a Papal pronouncement. But I dislike the mood of extremism notice in the Church, a certain anti-authority trend. Difficulties are exaggerated. People strike attitudes, all very dramatic, I suppose. But it seems silly.
"It would upset me if the Church careered along on intellectual fashions, if the Pope followed fashionable trends."
And what about the Pope speaking on divisive issues, matters some of us feel demand moral judgement. Mozambique for example?
"Intellectually and emotionally — I am interested in moral ideas — I am on the side of the Vietnamese in South East Asia. And I am on the side of the black Africans.
"But the moral issue in colonialism is so much part of the political that I wonder if we are not asking Pope Paul to decide the latter for us. Where does the moral stop and the political begin? And what will we say it' Pope Paul gets involved in politics?
"I believe we should think seriously about the judgements made by the Pope. Young Catholics, to get back to an earlier question, have a role to play in a world that increasingly grows more faithless, simply by practising their religion."
Fie thought for a moment.
"I hope you will not think that I believe only Catholics can make happy marriages. Nor that only Catholics have a part to play in keeping society faithful. I ani speaking for myself.
"I spoke for myself when we discussed marriage. Where our religion helps is that it makes the idea of our breaking our marriages repugnant, indeed impossible."
What does he think of the socalled permissive society?
"Put it this way. I am happily married. I also-like women. I like them so much I am not prepared to hurt them, not one of them. So, I would guess. I am u nspi er r Herbert i v re t. "Read. his father, was not a Catholic. I did not mention that hut I pointed out that he had a profound influence on younger men. many of whom were Catholics. I lerbert Read was extraor dveinraacryity inof thheis svimispiolincitoy d f and
complex, in art, society, morals. And in the lucidity of his writing.
Had he influenced his son?
"Yes. very much. I suppose he shaped my attitude to God the Father. My father was wise and consistent."
We left it at that. But Herbert Read's autobiographies will be published in a new edition in December, with an introduction by Graham Greene. one of the many Catholics who profited from his example and teaching.
Had he been influenced by older Catholic writers?
"No. I am, as you have suggested. rather a traditionalist as a writer. I enjoy reading Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh but I am not influenced
by them. As a writer 1 am uninfluenced, so far as I know, by any other writer.
"As a Catholic I think I am influenced by Julien Green, the French American, especially by his diaries,"
A quotation from Green's diaries is the epigraph to The Upstart.
Do you like travelling, like our friend Graham Greene?
"No. I prefer being at home with my wife and children. I like children. I like my home."
Did you enjoy being in Uruguay? "Yes, I think so. It was interesting. The people in my book are Uruguayans. Their school is run by Irish Christian Brothers who seem to have grasped what is required of them in the country. It is an agricultural country and, corning from Ireland, the Brothers have a similar culture.
"The Uruguayans arc kindly and affectionate parents. And the Brothers have learned to temper discipline to the standards required by the parents.
"They introduced rugby and the boys and former pupils are keen on the game, "They were flying from Uruguay to Chile for a series of rugby matches when the aircraft crashed in the Andes.
"I enjoyed being in Uruguay. 1 liked the people I met, but was glad to return to my family. "My book is due for publication in the United States in January."
Had he any final comment to make as a Catholic?
He struck a note of amused embarrassment, but answered:
"I think Catholics should try to be balanced, to steer a middle
course. I believe there are too many fanatics about. too many extremists."
As I was leaving Read was popping from one foot to the other, trying to corral the cat which had made an especially daring attempt to escape.
W. J. igoe's review of The Upstart is on Page 6.