Monday, May 24, 2010

Miss Garnet's Angel

To have closure or not to have closure is a question all storytellers must face. Does the protagonist definitely achieve or definitely not achieve the victory? Are all the secondary plots neatly tied up? Is every single thread accounted for?

Perhaps it is not a question of closure or lack of it, but the degree of neatness.
These were questions that tumbled around in my head last Thursday evening on driving home after an excellent talk by the bestselling novelist Salley Vickers.

Salley does not plot out her novels, she told us. She writes without knowing where she is going, prompted presumably by the unconscious mind. Although her books are not autobiographical, she weaves in threads from her own experience. This became clear as she wove the narrative of her talk, dipping into life experiences and into her novels with such lightness of touch that it was easy to become confused as to which was which.

These things struck me about the writing process as she described it: she reads her work out aloud to herself as she edits it, she walks when she needs to resolve issues and she never reads her own books once they are published. She is also fascinated by the workings of memory and the process of natural selection on ancient stories that survive today. These things struck me because in those respects I am exactly the same. She also visits art galleries when looking for answers, something I have not done but am now resolved to try.

But back to those tumbling thoughts. Have you ever wondered why some stories cling on to the mind after you have finished with them? Some talks too. I was so intrigued by her talk that I bought a copy of her novel Miss Garnet’s Angel.

My one regret about dyslexia is that it is a barrier to my reading more. Reading takes the work of my whole mind. In order to read a whole novel I need to set aside a chunk of time. You can judge then, how much Salley’s talk had clung to my mind, when I say that on getting home I started reading her novel. And that I pressed on to the end three and a half days later.

The story is tumbling right now in my head. I have the feeling that it will still be there tomorrow. Such is the quality of narratives which do not travel directly from A to B, but meander and bifurcate and recombine, beguiling the logical mind. Perhaps it is a quality of stories that are written with the unconscious mind in the driving seat. And perhaps it is a quality also of stories where all the threads are not quite so neatly tied back together at the end.

They say Miss Garnet’s Angel was a word of mouth bestseller. Having read it, I am not surprised. It is as delightful as was her talk.