Britain's first book blogger (November 2000). This Space is now a major motion picture, or something.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Instead of a Comment: on McEwan's Saturday as fiction

In a comment on my post about Ian McEwan's Saturday, Adam of Completely Futile says he doesn't see why I object to a particular sentence in the novel ("This reading list persuaded Perowne that the supernatural was the recourse of an insufficient imagination ...") and one I made up in the same blog to further illustrate my point. I've made my reply here for greater prominence:

I think you're not alone Adam, and I find it difficult to express sometimes. Let me try again.

One thing I know is that I dislike the sentence because it assumes knowledge of what the character knows and feels without this being in any way a problem to the author and his narrative.

Of course, most people assume that putting words and thoughts into a character's head is precisely what fiction is. Indeed, they come to fiction in order to do this or have it done for them. Obviously, we can’t easily know the thoughts and motivations and feelings of other people, so it is easier to make it up and inhabit an imaginary world for a time. Most people are content with this, it seems.

I’m not. I find that the pliable world of the imagination only reinforces the intractibility of the real.

I need fiction that makes this issue a part of the narrative. Invariably this means taking risks with the narrative itself. When a writer finds a way forward without losing sight of the essential disjunction of life and art, it is exciting and liberating. This is the past, present and future of great fiction. Hence my suggestion that writing beautiful yet solipsistic sentences is not real fiction at all.

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