Thursday, April 4, 2013

"To produce a novel that was entirely and deliberately bad — not merely bad at the beginning as part of a plan to tease readers about their desire for naive realism — would be a truly daring artistic move."

The danger, of course, is that people will assume you are simply a bad writer, a risk all the more pronounced when this is your first novel. It’s true, the narrator of “The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards” is exactly the sort of writer who would produce a self-involved meta-narrative, but Jansma could be, as well. And surely if Jansma were so fiendishly clever as to devise such a plan, he would have done so in service of a more interesting theme than that most tiresome of authorial assertions, that fiction writers tell “lies.”

From Laura Miller's interesting take on postmodern "sneaky author tricks" in Salon, a critical view that inspired Flavorwire to post their top ten "phenomenally tricky books."

Miller goes after two different, but often related, gimmicks: The reveal that everything you've been reading is a fictionalized account all along, and the gimmick of writing poorly on purpose because your story represents someone else's work.  Miller relies on Ian McEwan and Kristopher Jansma's The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards (which I've never heard of), but each of those made me think of a different book: First, Life of Pi (link to Kunal's recent review), which I thought was far more patronizing than Atonement in the exact same fashion that Miller it is criticizing.  Second, The Iron Dream, which asks the question: What if Hitler was a science fiction author?  The Iron Dream is the best example I can think of what Miller's talking about above, a bizarre achievement that's either a total success or a complete failure--and absolutely excruciating to read.


Brent Waggoner said...

I don't think Atonement really fits with her criticisms very well, but Life of Pi seems like a good example.

Adam said...

Thanks for the link to the 10 phenomenal tricky books, I really enjoyed it. I like the quote too!

Elizabeth Winder said...

Thanks for reviewing! I love that my book might be a prompt to re-examine other women's books/art. That's the best thing I could hear!