Life as Fiction

I’ve always had immense respect for writers who were capable of putting themselves on paper.  A bit of disdain (and jealousy) always went with that, because you cannot bare yourself without baring others. But then again, most writers have to be selfish, self-righteous pricks to a certain degree, don’t they?

Beyond Fiction

I have read two such books recently, Crazy for Vincent by Herve Guibert and Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi. These books defy fiction and still you cannot read them as anything but. Pieces of people’s lives disguised as fiction strike me as something beyond fiction. How much of it is real? Is the fragmented, disconnected style a by-product of trying to hide as much as you reveal, or is it a conscious choice to enhance the realism of depicting human emotional life?

How much of it is a result of compulsion, and how much a choice of the author? Can we talk about plot, characterisation or structure? Can we rate a person’s life just because they decided to put it in a book?

250 Pages – a Million Questions

The two books total at a bit over 250 pages, yet they have left me with so many questions – about life and nature of literature, its purpose and function – both personal and civilizational. Is literature meant to entertain or educate? Even if an author decides on the purpose, is it even important – being so dependent on what the reader is bringing into the process?

Different or Not

Different yet eerily similar (and familiar!), both Crazy for Vincent and Intimacy show that most of us (if not all) are broken, in disrepairsearching for meaning, love or something like it.

The paper is not covered with ink it’s covered in scars – especially in Crazy for Vincent. Guibert is more self-aware. Unlike Kureishi, he is not self-aggrandizing (even when he’s trying to be contrite).  Guibert does not try to justify himself or his story, while I felt Kureishi had the need to prove that he is a “good man” by the same bourgeoisie standards he’s failing/refusing to meet.

The fact that I could see a reflection of myself in these stories complicates things further. More questions arise, because they have managed to elevate a deeply personal experience to a more universal level (at least in my case). We’re talking about male authors. One of them is obsessed with his young gay lover (simplification!), the other is trying to rationalize his decision to leave his wife and two sons. Not very relatable in my case, yet the emotional level, the raw material  is malleable.

Ethics of Fiction

I’ve read a review of Intimacy on Goodreads which made me pause and which is closely related to my intro. Does a writer have an obligation to protect those he includes (exploits) in the service of his writing? Should Kureishi have masked the autobiographical elements of Intimacy to protect his family and friends? All valid questions, but I consider them unimportant, because even if Kureishi “tweaked” his life in order to be nice (?), a book like this would have brought about the same questions as the “untweaked” version.

I believe that if you choose to be a (certain type of) writer and you actually succeed in becoming one, you have to be prepared to be judged and called “unethical” or “selfish and self-righteous “.


Madeline Miller: The Song of Achilles

miller_2234648bA long time ago my dad gave me this huge, dark blue book and said: „You’re too old to listen to stories, you need to read them yourself.“ The book was heavy, with columns of text about gods, demigods, heroes and anti-heroes. There was something to be learned from all those stories, I could tell. But there was no excitement in it. The heroes were heroic, the gods were moody, and everything seemed bereft of humanity and reality. I was told mythology was supposed to be that way. Madeline Miller begs to differ.
The Song of Achilles was a reluctant choice, but one which I will never regret. The way a book about demigods, great kings and warriors manages to describe humanity and the essence of everything that we are is breath-taking. There is no perfect being in this book. Nobody is perfectly good, or perfectly evil. There are no sides to be taken. You just want something to happen because you care, not because you think it is right. There is only interpretation, relativity and emotion.
A silly theory of mine comes to mind. I always thought that women writers were less prone to excess. I don’t know why, maybe because since the dawn of time we had to apologize for being able to do something as good as or better than men. But my theory comes to life in the style of Madeline Miller. She does not flaunt around, she cares not for impressing the reader with big words and linguistic games. She simply pours her heart out in an unpretentious and poetic way. From page one, her words wrap around your heart, giving comfort and warmth. Even though you are aware of the impending doom of the characters she’s making you love, you cannot stop yourself from feeling the poetry, from feeling the beauty. And you let yourself go. You forget about how the story ends, you live in the sentence you are reading, not caring about what comes next. And suddenly, you realize those words that once warmed your heart are squeezing tighter and tighter, until it’s too late and your heart is irrevocably broken. Broken by a story everybody knows. Broken by a story you’ve known since you were a child.
It takes a genius to refresh a story as old as civilization by using nothing but your talent to weave beautiful sentences and the sense of what it means to be human.