Monday, 8 June 2009

It's all terminology, innit.

I may already have shocked and horrified thousands (or, let's be realistic, mildly amused tens) by quoting Mr Fishwife : "I don't see the point of fiction, myself." I should point out here that, in his defence, Mr Fishwife is an intelligent, articulate, well-read person. It's just that his idea of a good read tends to be the breeze-block-sized tome entitled Stalingrad, The Somme, or Hitler: The Dancing Years (... Obviously I made the last one up - far too frivolous). "Why would I want to read books about a bunch of people having nervous breakdowns in Islington?" was his initial defence; fair enough, I thought, me neither, although to consider this tiny tiny microcosm of the genre as representative of the whole of Fiction is to consider Betty Blue representative of all subtitled movies. The point of these books is not the plot development (surely everyone knows the name of Hitler's hairdresser by now?) but the nerdily desperate hope that this particular historian may have new material. No twists, no turns, no denouement.
HOWEVER.
Over the weekend, I enjoyably worked through not one but three works of fiction*. None of them, I might add, set in Islington. Every now and then I would look up at the television and it took me a while to notice that he was watching the same rugby match for the third time. "Haven't England already played Argentina?" I said. "Oh all right, all right," he replied defensively "You know how you like to reread a book for the style and the language? Same thing." My conclusion is that there is a frustrated literary stylist in all of us. In some people it only reveals itself as a love of the finer points of a rugby match.

* The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters - excellent, very creepy in a postwar Daphne du Maurier kind of way, and unusually not a Sapphic interlude in sight.
Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler - I do like her. And found myself distressingly identifying with the slightly tetchy 60-year-old male main character.
Turbulence by Giles Foden - Actually still only halfway through this one so will have to reserve judgement until I've finished. Beats Ladysmith into a cocked hat though. Up there with The Last King Of Scotland so far.

20 comments:

Rol said...

No offence to Mr. F, but I'm always horrified by the whole "what's the point of fiction?" question.

From now on, I think I shall respond with "what's the point of reality?"

Lucy Fishwife said...

I've often wondered what the point of reality was! I think there's a huge split between the fiction/non-fiction mind, like chess-brains vs non-chess-brains. The Nons believe fiction to be somehow dishonest and untrustworthy, while the Fics can't see the point in watching grainy B+W footage of the Dresden bombings AGAIN when we already KNOW what happened...

katyboo1 said...

Damn you again Fishwife!
I was really hoping that you would either not like Sarah Waters or not review it yet. Now I'm going to have to buy the bloody thing aren't I? I've been mulling it over for a few weeks, kidding myself thinking: 'Oh! She's probably gone off the boil by now. It won't be as good as her others.' Hah... bang goes any hope of budgeting, shelf space, not going blind.

usedbuyer 2.0 said...

Oddly, we may have married the same man, Fishwife. Mine, however, being longer in harness, has learned not to kick, at least about me reading novels. "Keeps you off the streets, I suppose." being roughly his take on the habit.

I too have a soft spot for Ms. Waters. There's a signed copy tucked under my desk at work, just waiting.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I used to agree with Mr F but I've come round, not least writing the odd bit of fiction myself, though not a sausage about apoplexy in Islington I swear.

Envy you your prodigious reading speed - you must have servants!

Aparatchick said...

I've gone over to Mr. Fishwife's side of the street in the last few years, mostly because it seems so difficult to find good novels. And some of the non-fiction I've read is excellent (and non-Hitlerian in nature). Two recently read examples: Down the Nile, by Rosemary Mahoney and The House at Sugar Beach, by Helene Cooper.

The new Sarah Waters' book is on my list - I loved the Night Watch. So perhaps I haven't joined the Mr. Fs of the world entirely.

Lucy Fishwife said...

Katyboo - seriously, if you like the subtle twitchy scariness of DduMaurier and stuff like "Turn of the Screw", you won't regret the overdraft, the new Ikea Billy shelving unit, the milk-bottle bifocals...

usedbuyer - We resigned ourselves early on to the fact that we're polar opposites - politically, organisationally, etc etc - there is only so much one can take of the History channel though (or "the Hitler Death channel" as it is known chez nous) without needing to lose oneself in the comforting embrace of escapist fiction...

Laura - Ooh do you write prose too? Would love to read it if it's as good as your poetry. You must share some. I have huge admiration for anybody who can actually apply themselves. Servants?? I wish. Mind you getting somebody else to read and summarise a book for you is a bit the kind of thing I imagine Jeffrey Archer does.

Aparatchick - I don't entirely ignore non-fiction (in much the same way, Mr F will read novels but only Iain M Banks or anything Napoleonic)- I was so taken by "Jewels" by Victoria Finlay that I was actually banned from quoting nuggets of factitude at the people I was on holiday with! Highly recommend that and "Colour" (also by her) - fab. Oh and "What Would Barbra Do" by Emma Brockes.
I just love the fact that fiction is a series of Narnia doors into different worlds...

Cassandra said...

Ooooooooooh cannot WAIT to read The Little Stranger now. I LOVE Sarah Waters, though I haven't read The Night Watchman yet, if that's what it's called. Sorry, am drunk with fatigue and munting, minging fluey cold thing and can't write straight, let alone interesting. I still think you should reply that you don't see the point of marriage.

Nene said...

My husband says he married me to keep him on his toes. He's intellectually lazy and primarily reads news section of paper and crime fiction. Whenever I'm over the hill about a novel, he'll grind to a standstill after 20 pages and claim that it's depressing... Like he did with Yi-Yun Li's The Vagrants, which I've been ranting about since reading it.
I've got Turbulence on my wish list. Asked for it at Waterstone's the other day. Blank stare. That's why I shop at Amazon...
I read half fiction half non, probably mostly non at the moment. Read only fiction first 30 years of my existence...

monk said...

I'm half and half too. Non-fiction mainly because my ignorance horrifies me, but at the same time I am very picky about which non-fiction I read. It must read like poetry, and make me realise real-life is as fantastical as fiction. Jan Morris, for a start.

RML said...

Is Noah´s Compass out yet or do you have a ARC? I LOVE Anne Tyler an have all her books- reread at least three times each :)

Love your blog, from a fellow book lover.

Lucy Fishwife said...

Cassandra - suggested this rejoinder to Mr F who was deeply hurt: "It's not like I said I didn't see the point of, you know, YOU or something. Now everybody hates me and thinks I'm some illiterate yob." Told him it could be worse, as if I was a stand-up comedian using him as material he'd have already killed himself by now...

Nene - The only things we have both read and enjoyed on holiday were "Jewels" by Victoris Finlay (non-fiction but full of sparkly facts, plus enough HISTORY for him) amd Iain M Banks's sci-fi (I'm not the hugest sci-fi fan in the world but hey, it's fiction).
Used to work for Waterstones - they will mostly only recognise a book title if it's Book Of The Month. Also, corporate policy to tell you a book is "unavailable" or out of print if they can't find it on the computer. Fact.

Monk - Real life is definitely way odder than fiction (especially Jan Morris!!) but don't you find that the words "based on a true story" automatically make your heart sink slightly? It's like they're warning you in advance that there is NO NARNIA IN THIS WARDROBE.

RML - It was an advance freebie from the publisher - one of the perks of working in a bookshop is the availability of advance/free books (well, we're certainly not in it for the money..)! Yes, I also love Anne Tyler - the beauty of observation of the everyday..

French Fancy said...

Ooh, Fishwife - I've got the self same model here - he has read Stalingrad and 'Somme' - plus mine reads Asimov too - but doesn't do 'regular' fiction. He does not know what he is missing, eh?

Lucy Fishwife said...

FF - hello fondant! Yes, I think there's actually a section in the Boden/Lands End catalogue that offers you the same husband in a range of sizes. New colour for this summer: Prematurely Grey!

Perfumeshrine said...

"there is a frustrated literary stylist in all of us"> how very true!!
I notice men are somehow genetically pre-programmed against fiction and it takes a considerable effort to get them around (basically the right non-boring book sometime in their formative years...otherwise the case is semi-lost!). Have you noticed it too?

Lucy Fishwife said...

Hi hon - you have a very good point there. I think Mr F's only real love as childhood books go was "The Eagle Of The Ninth" - which turned him straight into a reader of history. That said, I have high hopes for the new Giles Foden novel as it's all about D-Day!

Kate Lord Brown said...

Thank goodness - thought it was just us. Other half dislikes fiction (apart from Flashman) so much he hasn't even read my m/s. He reads *big* books abt Mao, and I love Anne Tyler. Vive la petite difference. Glad to have found you through Twitter - will add to my blogroll!

Lucy Fishwife said...

Hello Kate! Mine reads Flashman too. And Sharpe. I am trying REALLY HARD not to consider this a largely gender-based divide (I know many men who love fiction) but the stats are starting to add up, aren't they? And let's face it, how many women do you know who love military history?

Reluctant Blogger said...

Oh there needn't be a point to anything. Where's the fun in having a point? Well, unless it is a pencil or a dagger I suppose.

I rather like sapphic interludes myself.

Lucy Fishwife said...

True, very true, I hate the fact that everything has to have a point. Still quite pleased with things like astrophysics and quarks and morphic resonance that nobody has managed to entirely explain. Oh and apparently if you put hot water in an icecube tray it freezes faster than room temperature water. Nobody understands that either. Sapphic interludes - well, men see the point of those very differently too...