Tuesday, April 07, 2009


One of the things I did at the Oxford Literary Festival was chair a debate on the short story with Lionel Shriver, Ben Okri, Andrew O'Hagan and Wells Tower. Each panellist read out a favourite passage. Shriver read from Richard Yates, O'Hagan from Alice Munro, Tower from Tobias Wolff and Okri from Pushkin. It was all good stuff but there was something about Okri's selection. It was the first sentence of The Queen of Spades.

'They were playing cards at the house of Narumov, an officer in the Horse Guards. The long winter night passed imperceptibly; it was after four in the morning when they sat down to supper. Those who had won enjoyed their food; the others sat absent-mindedly with empty plates before them. But champagne appeared, the conversation grew livelier, and every one took part in it.'

One was conscious in all the other passages of the effort of the writer. Here there appears to be no effort at all and yet so much is communicated. That, I suppose, is the difference between talent and genius.


  1. unless you provide an example of talent I will have to take your word for it. as it stands, it's not an attention grabber. maybe it's the way Okri tells them; like poetry! it always makes better sense spoken than on the page. or photography! ansel adams; there are two people in every photograph.

  2. Every human being has potential- talent typically receives praise while genius is condemned.

  3. who's wells tower?

  4. Who drinks champagne at four in the morning when you have to drive to work the next day? Really thats a bit daft...