Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dear Mr Ford

Sigh. Let's talk about Frank, Mr Ford. I know you're probably a little bored of old Frank nowadays. He's safely and tidily finished with now that Lay of the Land is well and truly out there in the world. But I need to talk about him a little more, if you don't mind.

It's that I still don't understand him. He feels like a lie. A good lie, the kind of lie that reveals a selection of greater truths but a lie all the same. At the worst moments I suspect him of being an intellectual exercise on your part, a character so three dimensional and so true that you almost fool your readers into knowing him. Only then he isn't true because despite your skill your own knowledge of his fictionality is blended through every word he says. Nothing wrong with that obviously, he is a fictional character. It is this though, this blurring of that dividing line that makes him so problematic to me.

I first met Frank in a second year university literature course. We were reading Independence Day and, with only one exception, the entire class hated that book. It was endless, boring, exhausting, impenetrable, middle-aged. We came to agree that perhaps as older readers we may understand him better but that now, now in our youth his musings on life, parenthood, the best way to be a person were too alien, too well developed, too much our parents.

It is to your credit that none of us stopped abusing the character long enough to think that in our round dismissal of Frank and his endless positing of truth and confusion we had already bought him as true. The craft of the writing itself simply slid this man into our lives as real enough to be argued about as a person, a character whose opinions and thoughts were whole apart from those of the writer.

Only now I wonder, having moved on and grown up and read The Sportswriter and Lay of the Land and many of your short stories and seen you speak on the publishing tour for Lay of the Land (in Wellington, New Zealand, you were very intriguing, if different to what I expected) now I wonder if perhaps my problem with Frank isn't his truth but is in his fundamental falseness. I wonder, does he make me uncomfortable because he is so perfect a creature of the craft that he is eerie? Like a mannequin in a half light.

I also wonder about some of his emotional responses. I wonder at thier being so very different from my own. He is not of the universal, is Frank. He is himself. Worrying Mr Ford. Worrying and intriguing and irritating and very very clever.

So. My annoyance at these books does not set aside for one moment the fact that I should thank you for them. Hours of happily irritated thought are not to be sneezed at. Arm waving argument and the strong desire to thrust these books upon the different people I know to find out what they think in order to find out if what I think is what I think. Thank you for that.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dear Mr Hornby

I recently reread How To Be Good, a book that I love and have loved for a while now. However this last time that I read it I think that I finally noticed how very bleak the last line is. Perhaps each previous time I have been so enjoying Katie's realisation that she can live the life she has, that she really does love her family, that I have missed the worrying nothingness she sees beyond David out the window in the night.

I want to retain my belief in the happy ending but I think that I can't. I think that you meant that Katie will continue in her unhappiness, that things will never be for her the way that she believes she wants them to be, that we went through all that narrative sympathising with a character that in the end is not transformed.

This worries me. It niggles.

I still love the book however, even if I do have to radically reassess the reasons why. Perhaps my next reading of it will be coloured by my new understanding of the hopelessness of Katie's journey. Maybe not. I shall just have to look forward to finding out. (Unless, of course, I'm just wrong and she is transformed and I've somehow missed what seems to be a pretty clear point and in fact they live happily ever after with great warmth and understanding and a deeper love than ever just because of this difficult time. Have I? You can tell me, I won't tell anyone else.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dear Ms Atwood

Thank you for your words. Thank you for your sentences and for your paragraphs; especially for your paragraphs. Thank you for your chapters, your books, your thoughts, your characters and your situations.

Thank you for your slicing of all these lives into thinkable moments of truth.