On inconsistencies - Jo Carroll

Not long ago, I did a writing course looking at plot - and one of the things we were told was the importance of events and feelings linking together in some sort of logical sequence. So even if you play around with time or point of view, the narrative must hold together so that the reader - at the end - feels a sense of satisfaction. It all made sense; it held together. Characters responded to events because they believed this, or felt that, or understood the other; they behaved coherently.

But we live in strange times. What we are told one day, in the newspapers or on television, is contradicted the next. Taking just one example: here in the UK we were told, at the beginning of this pandemic, that wearing face masks made no difference to the risk of catching the disease, nor of passing it on. They were pointless, and might even increase the risk of us being infected if we failed to put them on or take them off correctly. Now - face masks are essential on public transport, but they come without instructions on putting them on or taking them off: we must work that out for ourselves.

It hasn't stopped there. We must stay two metres apart from each other. Except when we can't. The over 70s must get someone to do their shopping, except when they can't. We cannot travel across the country, unless we have no choice (or need an eye test). We can meet with one other family in the open air; we can meet with six people from different households in the open air; two households (but not three) may sit together in a garden; single people can go into the houses of one other family; single grandparents may cuddle their grandchildren but if you are still in a couple you may not. Children must be in school; they must keep two metres from each other (unless they can't) but no, there are no provisions for extra space and teachers are being unreasonable suggesting that thirty children need much bigger classrooms or additional accommodation if they are to be educated safely. We have a world-beating track-and-trace app; except we haven't - instead we are adopting one already developed by Apple. Except no one has talked to Apple. Are you keeping up with this?

If we constructed a narrative that was this confusing, we would leave our readers baffled - and I suspect many would give up long before the end. Of course this pandemic presents unique challenges to those in power - but it's their job to make sense of them, not produce policies as they go along. If ever we needed confirmation that coherence is vital, then we have our government is providing it in spades. At least, at the end of this, we will be able to say we have learned something.

Does my novel, moving as it does from Ireland to England to Australia to New Zealand, hold together? There's only one way for you to find out: The Planter's Daughter


Jan Needle said…
Interesting. I started to watch a programme called The Luminaries because of its vast pre publicity and found it so desperately confusing that I wrote it off completely. I'm told it's also a novel, but I'm hardly likely to bother, am I? Storytelling's surely the name of the game? Apropos of which, while I'm in a Covidy moaning mood, why can't I find yesterday's, or last week's, or any older posts any more? If I missed a day it was my great pleasure to go back to see what I'd missed. Signed: Whingy of Lancs.
Peter Leyland said…
I think your novel will be okay. You may know all about what is called the ‘post modernist novel’, starting with Lawrence Sterne in the C18 and extending to ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller...’ today. If not, no problem. The absurdist tradition reflects perfectly what you say in your piece. Write away.
JO said…
I read The Luminaries, a little sceptically as it’s structure tries a bit too hard for me, mainly because it is set in Hokitika - which is where one section of my novel The Planter’s Daughter’ is set. But I soon forgot my misgivings and wallowed in it - it’s a wonderful book. It won the Booker, which sometimes means it seems to drown in its own cleverness, but this is a worthy winner - a literary page-turner.

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