Phil, Queen's Square | July 1, 2019
If fiction is going to have any power at all, at some point we need to discuss the way fiction can convincingly get inside the head of a character, to transport you to a different place, a new way of seeing, and another’s point of view.
Two novels by John Boyne and Sayaka Murata share sociopaths as their primary characters. Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky spends most of its time telling the story of writer Maurice Swift from the perspective of the people who have their lives sucked out like some parasitic bug that leaves an empty husk afterwards. Convenience Store Woman is all interior monologue of a convenience store woman who manages to hide her pathologies from others.
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma is proof of Boyne’s point that it is better to show than tell, in this tale of a Nigerian chicken farmer’s descent into tragedy, as told by his spirit guide or “chi”.
Helen Humphreys asks a bigger question in Machine Without Horses: How do you write about other people. How do you get into their brains? Her answer is that fiction fails to be like real life: “Fiction is measured and reassuring in a way that life isn’t, and perhaps that’s why we read it, and also why I write it”. Perhaps that’s why Humphreys’ novel, part-memoir/non-fiction, part-fiction, feels the weakest of these titles.
It’s hard to be convincing when you don’t believe in the concepts of the genre.
Next month we re-visit my original concept for these monthly fiction reviews. We’ll examine what we can learn from fiction so far, with an eye to the answers/questions posed by these novels: At the Wolf’s Table by Rosella Postorino; The Taster by V.S. Alexander; From A Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan; and, The Plotters by Ŏn-Su Kim.