Lies, Damn Lies and Narrators.

Reviews. Is it undignified to respond to them at all? Supposedly it is, but if I had any care for my dignity (long gone now, alas – posssibly down the back of a sofa in a flat I shared when I was seventeen, but I digress) I wouldn’t keep a blog, or write books, or leave my house.

In the spirit of interesting conversation then, go here for the latest blog-review of A Kind of Intimacy, from Adrian Slatcher at the Art of Fiction and go here for his own fiction and poetry. It should probably be a rule that only writers are allowed to review other writers’ work. Makes sense to me, anyway.

This is one of the most interesting reviews I’ve had so far, I think. Adrian makes points about the debt my novel owes to Chick-Lit, the caricaturing of the male characters, and the opacity of why Annie is like she is… ‘neither a plausible victim of circumstances or an unexplained Iago’. I like that he picked those things up because the second two, at least, were issues I struggled with during the writing of the book.

In interviews I’ve already said I’m not going to get into ‘diagnosing’ Annie so the fact that she is neither a victim nor a villain is exactly the way I want it. Do we have to be either? The second point is much more interesting.

How do you use writing to portray characters as real, flesh and blood people when the narrator describing them only sees what she wants to see – never really understands that other people have minds and inner lives as complex as her own? With an unreliable narrator (I’d argue that means any first person narrator, but we can get into that somewhere else) you have to create two worlds – the one the character sees, and the one you invite the reader to infer. How to do that (and how to do it well) when you can’t let everything you know about this second world and the characters who inhabit it slip, because Annie doesn’t know about these things?

In A Kind of Intimacy, the places where Annie’s world and the ‘real’ world bump into each other are also the places where the plot turns out to be funny, or scary/uncomfortable. You either laugh at her, or she hits people. The discomfort gets giggled away, or Annie (trying not to spoil) removes whatever element of the real world is troubling her.

It’s a slippery, writing-type trick and I’m attempting it again, and it is still hard, especially as I’m trying not to play for laughs this time. The difference – the added difficulty – with novel 2 (or number 2, depending on how I am feeling about it) is that the character under examination isn’t there at all – she’s long gone by the time Cold Light opens and it isn’t only the narrator, her best friend, who is trying to figure her out: it’s a whole city.

Lola isn’t dealing with a real person, she’s dealing with a set of memories, some photographs, and lots of old news footage where her friend is represented by an actress. Her own motivations, as usual, get in the way: she’s got more reasons than most to shift a bit of the blame for the way things turned out onto someone who isn’t there, and isn’t ever going to be there, to defend herself. But Chloe needs to be there, in her own right, and exist, somewhere, as a ‘real’ person the reader can see outside of all the confusions Lola creates.

I wonder how I’ll do this time. It is going well so far, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I? There’s nothing more unreliable than a blogger. 

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