I introduced my previous post by once again declaring my fascination for storytelling, and for how it might be best achieved. I also declared a preference for first-person narrative, or point of view, in literature, attracted as I am by the thought that, as in life, we might only ever be privy to segments of the truth – can an author be reticent with information, whether fiction or not? Can s/he be deluded? Can s/he bend the truth? Can s/he lie? In posing such questions, I thus suggested that I only part-knew the first-person narrator, Phillip, of Wood, Talc and Mr. J, whom I therefore decided to interview.
I interviewed a character of my own creation, and plan to do another as soon as the book is out.
My experiment, or mission – a quest for ‘truth’ – however philosophical, caused a stir in certain quarters: how can a first-person author lie?
Well. Perhaps, then, we should begin from the premise that all fiction is a lie.
But how can you not know your own character?
My character is based on my own experiences, someone you might see differently…
And on it goes. And I could, go on, but I won’t.
‘Truth’. If ever a word was weighted down by possibilities, then that one is…
I’m reminded of the groundbreaking 1950s film by Kurosawa: Rashomon, a psychological thriller in which a man is murdered and his wife raped. Four different witnesses give four different accounts of the incident; indeed, the film studies the very notion of ‘truth’; and the very power of storytelling. Four people are out for the same thing: to persuade others.
As I type these words, incidentally, my eyes keep rising upward and back to my line of “all fiction is a lie”. It brings to mind how Phillip, somewhere in an early chapter, describes his father:
* * * * *
The good to come out of it was that it rendered him a real-life character. And I was sure he knew; he’d often laugh at himself. Crowds smothered him up in our local, my friends included, since he’d recount a tale like no other; spice it with a unique passion. And never would he let one of those ‘‘injustices’’ go by if he believed there existed a solution. Although the consequences weren’t always favourable, they made for an extensive repertoire.
* * * * *
So Phillip, our fictional character, talks of his fictional dad as being “a real-life character”… No, I’m not even going there. What I’ll do is echo the line “he’d recount a tale like no other; spice it with a unique passion.”
Just what, then, might that imply? That his dad would bend the truth? Lie, even? And why? To persuade?
In this blog post, I’d firstly like you to read the shortest chapter in the novel. Phillip and Jed have just left a bar on a seaside promenade and are about to make their way over the road to a nightclub, until Phillip ends up becoming something of a war casualty. Or at least that is how Phillip would have us view the situation: could he be exaggerating a tad?
Following the passage below, I’ll attempt to rewrite the scene from Jed’s point of view, Phillip’s so-called “best friend”.
* * ** *
April hauled ex-Macca’s ex-body, directing our army via the fairground, supposing her beguiling beam would secure that crucial last ride, even if the boys had put the toys away half an hour back. As all but two of us fell for it, it was a sight to behold, evoking flashes of dizzy Disney scenes – that our band of tearaways should sprout tails from trench coat vents for their excesses!
Jed was taken more by life on our side of the road, his eyes reflecting a medley of promenade hue. ‘Look at this lot,’ he said, nipping my question of where on earth Ilkeston was in the bud. ‘None of ’em have any convicts of their own.’
‘Do you mean convictions?’
He didn’t hear. But asked had I noticed how ‘Mod’ and ‘Ted’ rhymed. He barred my smirk with a hand: ‘Three letters, ending in d…’
The rhetoric was cut short when someone turned to meet us dead on, pressed us in a North-eastern accent to offer our allegiance, until the glaze of anxiety was snuffed by a frothing beer bottle, a stick-grenade of sorts, impacting against his head, granting Jed a light ale-blood facial. The beggar collapsed into my arms. The bottle crashed onto the kerb.
Screams of a different nature rippled like a breeze of bitter change, and yet I couldn’t put my finger on its source. Groups silhouetted, an approach, a retreat; a car shunned dug-in feet, the to-ing and fro-ing. And then, in squadron-like re-formation, on a general’s growl, all became as plain as a size ten boot: ‘Skinhead! Skinhead!’
There was something malevolent in the way they did that.
Jed yanked my hood as I laid my patient to the ground. He dragged me down a street leading to the park, safest bet, but for a division of our craven copraphagics catching on, screeching forth their personal excreta.
I took the knee-high wall Red Rum-style, only to recognise that one of us had committed an error of judgement: a step, a day out-stepped, my grand-national winner falling to dust at this last hurdle; a frantic thought on which to cling, this short-straw-of-a-moment million. And so again I placed a glossy sole upon a Jolly Fisherman’s sun-bathed stairway, in past imitation or practice for the future – I had the world at my feet after all…
Teeth penetrated the footwear in Morph-ish splatter. Courage cared for the spine.
“You’re going to fall flat on your face,” echoed a warning, before a nervous laugh above…
* * ** *
It’s a romantic description. He paints quite a picture, does Phillip.
As for Jed, I don’t know what to make of him, he’s certainly a personality, and yet rarely gives clues as to his thoughts. That said, the Phillip of 1978 would have us believe – particularly during the interview of my last post – that there’s little else to know about him, that what you see is what you get; Jed worries about, and is afraid of, nothing. This point of view hardly contrasts with the one of today’s Phillip, either, as he looks back… Or is the Phillip of today asking you to make up your own mind?
As an exercise in creative writing, I’ll now playfully offer another version of the above scene, from Jed’s point of view. I do not, however, claim that this is what Jed is really thinking, for that would be impossible; I do but conjecture, in keeping with literary parlance:
* * * * *
As we come out of the pub, April does as I’ve told her: leads everyone off to the fairground. And I can’t believe everyone except Phillip follows on; when it’s only him I need to get rid of, that’s the point, but he sticks to me like glue at times. The gear Vicky’s promised me in the bar’s the business, pure powder, and she’s ready to give it me half price along with a lay – talk about my birthday! But what do I do, with Phillip clinging on?
As always I end up taking it out of somebody else, like that lot in front of us doing all the mouthing. ’Thing is, I’m totally gone on barbiturate and so start slurring. I mean to say something about ‘convictions’ but it comes out wrong – and I should never bring poetry into it. And he pulls his smug look – God, I feel like smacking him at this point but someone in front cops a beer bottle from nowhere, and before we know it we’ve got Skins giving it the big boys.
So we decide to take a side street leading to the park – too many Skinheads for my liking. Some of ’em follow on, and then Phill just jumps over this wall and completely mistimes it – this Skinhead thought it was hilarious; he asks me for a cigarette and then the coppers turn up so he goes over the wall as well.
Talk about fall flat on your face, Phill…
* * * * *
I don’t know what you make of that but Jed does tell a different story, or what you might call a variation of the same story. I like the stream of consciousness effect; the way he draws us in with his use of present tense… And I just can’t help wondering how big that wall is in ‘reality’, and who it is that laughs once he “mistimes” his jump.
Again, I could go on but I’ll refrain.
Things may not always be as they seem, I guess the moral of this post might be. And there are rewards in taking a different perspective from time to time, either in a book or in everyday life…
What I now hope you’ll do, when reading Wood, Talc and Mr. J, is think about this post at some point, and, having reading the book, maybe come back and paint your own 2nd-person perspective, of this same scene. I’d be well and truly intrigued by what you come up with. Because you will all read the book differently. Where, then, shall lie the ‘truth’?
Your literary, soulful friend