Saturday, 22 May 2010


Good song. Remember it?

I’ve touched on this before. The fact that writers inevitably lose much of their innocence when it comes to reading others’ work. No longer are you entirely in the author’s hands, free to experience their world, their prose, as they meant it to be. Critical faculties engage. The craftsperson in you is alerted. Every word passes through your own aesthetic filter. And it can be fucking annoying. I remember the unadulterated joy of yielding to a story, content to bask in the magical essence some mystical and revered Writer had somehow, remarkably, created.

A few years on, a few hundred books read, a few hundred thousand words written, and something, I feel, is lost. From the start of a new book I’ll gauge the tense and narrative point of view, wondering why the author chose them. I’ll appraise the opening paragraph, consider how hard it works, what it achieves, how it might have read originally. Why does the story start here? I’ll try to predict why characters are introduced in the order they are, whether they feel like caricatures, whether their dialogue is authentic. Verisimilitude will give me a nudge if events begin to strain credulity. Motifs dotted about will prick my attention, and I'll quickly scan back, suspicious I'm being manipulated.

In fact, it’s more deconstruction than reading.

That’s not to say I don’t still love the reading experience; more that it’s become something else, and it can never revert back. There are, I suppose, rewards: seeing a master at work, knowing just what they’ve done with a phrase, a shift in time, affords a quiet and adulatory nod to the writer, perhaps a little envy even. But I do miss the raw pleasure, being blind to the process that’s at work beneath the effect and affect that’s achieved.

I’m lucky enough to have a fortnight in Provence coming up, yet I’m already anxious about what to take to read. (Stunning recommendations left below please.) I read, almost exclusively, literary fiction, which is also what I write. Perhaps a shift in genre would recapture some of the innocence. Last year I read, and really enjoyed, R.J. Elroy’s A Quiet Belief in Angels, which is a thriller – a literary thriller, I suppose it would be termed, but a thriller nonetheless. I think it might have been my first, and I loved feeling like a reader first again. I may even read another one day.

What do you think?


Barb said...

Granted it's the region next door, but this is a truly fabulous book:
"Signs of the Heart: Love and Death in Languedoc" by Christopher Hope.

Tania Hershman said...

Have you read Day by A L Kennedy? One of the best things I've read in years. Also, Miss Thing by Nora Chassler, published by Two Ravens Press, highly original, I loved it. Enjoy Provence!

TOM J VOWLER said...

Thanks, Barb, I'll have a look.

I've not, Tania, no. Is that the A L Kennedy who blogs in the Guardian, and whose collection is longlisted with FOC? Originality is what we crave. Thanks.

Anna-Marie said...

There came a time, studying Eng Lit at uni, that I started to believe that Shakespeare was a stilted, cynical old plagiariser because I had read the words so many times, looked at them from so many different view points and read everyone else's research and opinions on the matter. I had to keep far away from Shakespeare for quite a number of years before I could chill a bit and re-appreciate his genius. I guess being too critical could take the fun out of reading.
Maybe you could re-read a few classics. My own personal absolute corkers would be Moll Flanders/Jude the Obscure/Dracula/Oliver Twist and the children's book The Little Prince. They're not classics for nothing lol!

TOM J VOWLER said...

Food for thought, AM, thanks.

Paul said...

I'm reading the novel I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith right now. (I hope to finish it tonight.) I recognize your point when I read this work. I can "see" the writing taking place. I can see the plotting and arranging. It does detract from the reading experience.