He’s right, of course, Ridley Scott, about art, culture and everything. Speaking to the New York Times, the 75-year-old director of Blade Runner and Alien has claimed that “most novelists are desperate to do what I do”.
Which novelist would demur? Scott’s movies have grossed $1.3bn at the box office; they’ve lodged into Western culture entire clips (“there’s an alien in my chest!”), quotes (“Commander of the legions of the blah”) and characters (Don’t do it Thelma!) that have a fan-base continentally larger, younger and sexier than any contemporary novelist could expect to reach – unless Ridley Scott would deign to adapt them. So enough flimflammery, bookworms. All you really want is a director’s chair, a private hairdresser, and Brad Pitt on speed-dial.
Except, of course, that Ridley Scott isn’t actually right. Instead he seems to have fallen into the trap that awaits all A-listers in which they lose the ability to put their feet in other people’s shoes and start to think that everyone else in the world is simply an unfulfilled version of Ridley Scott/Naomi Campbell/Justin Bieber. Scott deserves a free pass, his films being every hue of wonderful (the latest, Prometheus, included). But he’s wrong about novelists. Really, and at the risk of making a claim as ludicrously unverifiable as the septuagenarian director’s, if there was one group of people who you could say don’t secretly long to be Ridley Scott, it’s them.
It’s not that they wouldn’t envy his lifestyle. The Society of Authors puts the average two book deal at £12,000. Ridley Scott wouldn’t get into bed, let alone out of it, for that sum. At the same time, there is a certain otherworldly, anti-materialist snobbery in even attempting to write fiction in a world that increasingly doesn’t consider the written word something worth paying for. Jonathan Franzen, legendary grumpus, and possibly the most famous novelist in the world, believes that US culture hasn’t valued the author for decades. He feels “dread, and, yes, envy when I see books being routed by electronics in the sexiness context”.
But I would bet that most novelists gave up on rivalling the iPad or Rampant Rabbit for mainstream attention long ago. They would be foolish to consider themselves in the same “sexiness contest” as Ridley Scott, who could – if prompted - point to a number of very sexy reasons (Oscar, swimming pool, Corvette) why every novelist should want to work in Hollywood. What your bona-fide, slightly batty novelist can point to in return is something less tangible. Maybe just a hunch that what they write can possess a single reader entirely, for days, and then a long time after that.
So to leave off, snobbishly as you like, here are two new novels that did that to me. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. And The Unknowns by Gabriel Roth. Neither author, I hope, harbours any immediate desire to switch career with Ridley Scott.