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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Cusk’

The book is Rachel Cusk’s Arlington Park and I did indeed give up.

I cajoled myself to read a bit more after last week, but this one isn’t for me.  It may well suit me at another time, but I have too many books I am excited to start reading to keep going with one I am not really enjoying at the moment.

I don’t really relish the writing style, which is the biggest issue for me: metaphors, word repitition and prolonged descriptions abound.  All have their value of course, but all at once it can be a little overwhelming and I found myself wanting to skip through it. Also, the first four characters I met all showed fairly unedifying personality traits.  Put these together and there’s no hook for me, as a reader.

It’s a shame because I was really hoping to see something more from this.  From other reviews I’ve seen it’s quite deeply feminist and I wonder if that also has an impact: if something is overtly political it can seem more focussed on the message than the plot. Interestingly (to me!), the last book I gave up on was also overtly political.

Mind you, I have been put off by what I consider overuse of metaphorical devices before too.  Some examples can be beautiful but for me as a reader it is much more enjoyable and much more effective when it is deftly controlled.  In this book it felt out of control.

If you look on goodreads you’ll see it’s definitely one that divides opinion.  I know that some people adore it – and some of the descriptions really are brilliant.  It’s just that I prefer not to notice every description because when you notice the writing too much, you stop living in the world the writer has created.

If I am going to take a learning point from this book it’s that intelligent and unexpected word choices can improve a story, but there has to be a balance between action and description.  It is of course up to the writer to define what that is, because you’ll never please every reader!

Perhaps one day I’ll return to it, but now I am going on to something a little different…

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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This post would probably make a better Thursday post so for this week I’ll swap them about and give you a writing update then.  I just felt the need to write about this straight away!

Today I read one of those articles that makes me think about the nature of writing.

It was an interview with Rachel Cusk, whose writing notoriety comes of a very personal telling of the story of her divorce.

There were three specific points that struck me: that the line between fact and fiction is a murky one; that writers should not accept not being liked; that life as a writer is lonely and unsettled.

Obviously the third is a personal experience and not one all writers would subscribe to, but the idea of planning for a couple of years then going into isolation to write for a month does have its attractions 🙂  I think my biggest writing failure is lack of planning, so if I were to learn anything from Cusk it would be to do more of this, and the reality of my experience is that when I don’t plan sufficiently, I have a great start to a story but fizzle out in the middle.

However, for me as an individual, cutting myself off and being distant rather than friendly seems unnatural – I am definitely a people person!  So maybe the take-away is to accept that time alone is beneficial and learn to build it in as long as it suits me.

The second is as much about having a thick skin as anything else but is also about how much of a shared experience it is reasonable to use in your work without the agreement of the other parties.  It’s tied closely into the first, which is what really interested me: where does the line between fact and fiction start?

To me it’s simple – a real event or experience, a real story of a real person, is fact.  You can muddle the edges a little, change the weather or the setting, but it’s still that person’s story.

However, in reality it’s not quite as easy to define because our fictions are built from a million personal experiences.  We are inspired by overheard conversations, or newspaper articles: I am a great fan of writing in my notebook when something piques my interest, and all these things can be seen as a muddying of the waters.

My underlying belief is that if someone I know/know of can identify themself and their story in my work, I have not written a ‘proper’ fiction.

Of course, I am specifically trying to keep the fact and the fiction apart.  One quote of Cusk’s that really made me think was this:

“The idea of fiction or non-fiction to me has become so meaningless,” she says. “Saying, is this ‘true’? I’m surprised people care. I definitely don’t.”

(quote from telegraph.co.uk; 1 October 2016)

This line of thought sits much more appropriately in my poetry, where truth is as I see and feel it.  Poetry is my place to tell my story.  Not all the poems are inhabited by real people or experiences but they have flickered as ideas in my mind as a a result of things I have heard or seen.  They have met a need to process my emotions or experiences.

Fiction is not a place where I tell my own story.  It’s a place where I tell the story I want to read, the one I want to share – and that is a profound difference in my eyes.

As a writer it’s important to consider why I have such strong feelings about that line, and why I worry about crossing it.  At the core of it, I think it’s because I consider things from the human point of view first – I consider the individual and the impact my work will have on them – and the narrative second.

Does that make me silence my writing voice sometimes?  Probably; but it’s the choice I made and the only one I feel comfortable with.  Poetry exists as a half-way house of my vision of an indistinct world but even there the other players are shadowy and indistinct enough to be unrecognisable to the outside world.

For me it comes down to a different truth than Cusk’s; in my truth there has to be a line between fiction and non-fiction, if only so a writer can decide whether they are willing to cross it.

Fundamentally, it’s about the morality of writing – and the only guidance we have on that is the legal framework, and ourselves.

Let me know what you think…

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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