A Change in Point-of-View

Music: Judie Tzuke–Blackfurs

Big news: I’ve finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin!

I’ve learnt so much about Cephalonia, the fiasco of World War Two, and the passage of post-war civilisation. Gated, backward, quirky island culture was portrayed to a T (I should know). The humour was exactly my jam—from the first scene, during which Dr Iannis extracts a fossilised pea from his deaf patient’s ear. The characters were ridiculed without being trivialised, and the prose provoked thought without choking me on philosophy. I loved the recurring gags, such as the doctor’s system of peeing on his herbs in strict rotation.

Louis de Bernières is a master of bathos.

The eponymous character didn’t appear until over a third of the way through—an interesting decision, considering that the blurb gave me the impression of a love triangle. Yet I think it’s a strength of this book, and of many great works of literature. Note that Jane Austen limits even her ficklest characters to one love interest at a time (open to argument). Fact is, Pelagia is one of the greatest women I’ve ever read—she’s strong, honest, clever and unrelenting, admits temptation, admits regret, admits her morality is mostly circumstantial. Oh, yes, de Bernières pays great attention to the circumstantial! He’s not above beginning a chapter with ‘Dr Iannis was in a terrible mood for no reason other than the fact that it was a very hot day’ (or WTTE). It really is true to life.

Dayum, though. It gets dark. So much for a bittersweet, much-belated note of hope at the end: you only have to Google Cephalonia’s history to find out what the climax is plummeting towards.

Really what I want to discuss, though, is narrative perspective.

I often hear writers talking about which POV to use—first person, third, even second, tense. It can be hard to choose. I understand.

So, De Bernières was writing a massive ass hist fic. His solution to the which-perspective problem? ALL OF THEM. Chapter one is close third person on an unqualified, free-thinking Greek doctor. Chapter two is the first person monologue of Benito Mussolini!

There are chapters of letters showing the passage of time, chapters formatted like a dramatic duologue showing the progression of a relationship; it goes on. In the first half of the contents, seven chapters are entitled ‘L’Homosesuale’. It later becomes clear that these chapters are the sections of an Italian soldier’s ‘confession’ of his role in the war. This makes them easy to group and read in order later on, and see how his path crosses with the islanders.

I loved the thought and craft that went into it all—effortlessly, de Bernières sped up his pacing with a constantly surprising POV, incorporating aspects that broadened the story to far more than a mere romance or a tragic war crime. When you’re reading the POV of a goatherd mistaking bombs for fireworks, and an English parachuter for an angel, you know you’re in deft hands!

Now I talk about POV and me (because I’m self-centred like that). Ever since I started writing, it’s been in third person. I call it my ‘natural voice’; that’s where I feel comfortable. For that reason, I may have entertained a snobbish attitude at some point in my past, and for that I now apologise. I’m only just learning what a tool it can be to employ the right perspective. No POV is more valid, more correct or more effective than any other. It’s simply than different systems work for different books, and must be chosen accordingly.

I can’t believe how long it took me to recognise that! My WIP is in first person. It just is. One of my MCs has no physical presence (hard to explain, but it boils down to the word ‘ghost’). As a third person realistic contemporary writer, I’m soooo out my comfort zone it’s not even funny. But I got this. His first person POV feels so right.

Anyway, enough of me.

Check out this post by JA Goodsell, another #PitchWars hopeful, in which she discusses the merits of both first and third person and why it’s so important to think about your choice. 

Speaking of Pitch Wars, I’m so grateful to Brenda Drake and the team for putting together this enormous contest. ❤

I was lucky enough to snag some CPs via #FicFest a few months ago, with whose help I prepared my book for the contest. In submission week I met the Teen Squad (the other underage entrants (oops, that sounded as if PW has an age limit…)), and I’ve read two of their books so far. So. Much. Talent. I just want to squee about how wonderful and supportive this group is, how great it is to spar with GIFs, suss out our male characters’ underwear preferences, blaspheme against dentist appointments. These are real teens with teen worries and teen joys and a seriously good handle of real teen dialogue.

Rant over. It’s cool. I hope I’ll stay in touch with everyone I’ve swapped MSs with over the past three months, because what with my critique group and the #teensquad, I’ve finally found my people.

But hey, always room for more. Do comment your thoughts on de Bernières and/or narrative POV!

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‘SINGULARITY’ Explained

Music: Robert Fripp—New York, New York, New York

(After six weeks of toil I have finally finished exams, so even though schoolwork is mounting again, I have time! Yay!)

WARNING: long post. Can I excuse it on the grounds that Saturday was my blog’s one-year anniversary?

 

Miss Alexandrina asked me the other day whether SINGULARITY, the title under which I entered CAPTAIN’S PAPER/TRUMPING HEARTS/Drina’s story in PitchSlam, is a Shakespeare reference.

Here I attempt to explain the tenuous links which led to that title.

 

  1. Star-Cross’d Lovers (Shakespeare)

I studied Romeo and Juliet at GCSE, so multiple references crept into the first few drafts of Drina’s story. One passage in particular, when I was brainstorming titles last year, came back to me. Romeo meets Mercutio and Benvolio (finally) and they tease him by insinuating that the ‘important business’ that had delayed him was of a sexual nature.

The exact quote (Act II, Scene IV):

ROMEO         Why, then is my pump well-flowered.

MERCUTIO   Sure wit, follow me this jest now till thou hast worn out thy pump, that when the single sole of it is worn, the jest may remain, after the wearing solely singular.

ROMEO         O single-soled jest, solely singular for the singleness.

Note that ‘pump’ is a double entendre, as are the ‘flowers’. Beyond that, Mercutio is saying the joke is poor and no longer amusing. Romeo then invokes the low joke and I like to think he is berating Mercutio not only for the joke but for assuming he was with Rosaline (or any girl, for that matter). In the event, Romeo is planning his wedding to Juliet, has just received a hate note from Tybalt, her cousin, and is keeping his marriage secret from his best friends.

How in the world does this sordid passage relate to Drina, besides her tendency to bandy about words?

"O Garden Clogs!" - yeah, they're so wasted in the daily trip to the compost heap and back

“O Garden Clogs!” – yeah, they’re so wasted in the daily trip to the compost heap and back

First the play. Garden Clogs are one of my motifs (‘pumps’). In Drina’s very first scene they are broke-soled, but it is implied that the antagonist will salvage them. Later they reappear as a threat (pretty much a hate note), and as an icon of corrupted richness, with sexual connotations.

Like Romeo, Drina engages herself to someone she’s only recently met, and conceals it for fear of the repercussions. A major plot-point is her crushed, inebriated deal with her fiancé’s brother, and the speculation surrounding it. Assumptions being one of the two major themes, joking over something so untrue—yet, notice, undenied by Romeo—seems apt.

Regarding other Drina-Romeo parallels, Act II, Scene II is the famous balcony scene, in which Romeo begins to mature from the antisocial, melancholy Rosaline-lover. Similarly, Drina begins to mature after meeting Chas—realising the Captaincy isn’t the glory everyone made it out to be, foreshadowing how many times it will betray her over the coming months. Chas, like Juliet, is the more mature member of the pair—though Drina, like Romeo, likes at least to feel that she’s the dominant.

A young DiCaprio opposite Claire Danes in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation.

A young DiCaprio opposite Claire Danes in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation.

Drina and Chas’s families are old friends; not feuding factions. However, with Chas’s mother’s dementia and Drina’s mother’s problems (I’m beginning to think PTSD), there’ll never be a good time for the young ones to prioritise elsewhere.

Then there’s the famous line about a rose of any other name still having the essence of a rose. This exemplifies Drina’s dilemma: she feels inextricably bound to her mother’s history and fate, which I believe come under ‘name’. The definition of a Montague is one who fights with Capulet, and that of Capulet fights with Montague. Juliet denies that the ‘children’s teeth be set on edge because their fathers have eaten sour grapes (Jeremiah), opening up the debate that our forefathers are not responsible for our actions as we are not responsible for theirs—we have no obligation to repeat our ancestors’ successes (or failures). ‘Independent’ Drina likes this idea, but struggles to free herself of liability to her mother’s state; like many children in such home environments, she half-believes the instability is her fault, whether directly or indirectly.

Anyway, the cyclic nature of generation: good or bad? #2 suggests another approach thereto.

 

2.   The Singularity of Life (Shakespeare)

Is it not the singularity of life that terrifies us? Is not the decisive difference between comedy and tragedy that tragedy denies us another chance? Shakespeare over and over demonstrates life’s singularity — the irrevocability of our decisions, hasty and even mad though they be. How solemn and huge and deeply pathetic our life does loom in its once-and doneness, how inexorably linear, even though our rotating, revolving planet offers us the cycles of the day and of the year to suggest that existence is intrinsically cyclical, a playful spin, and that there will always be, tomorrow morning or the next, another chance.” ― John Updike, Self-Consciousness

What can I add? Tragedy and comedy are two fundamental layers of this life—intermixing the two is allegedly a ‘British’ habit. That’s one of the things Shakespeare does best: in King Lear, one daughter refusing to admit her father’s ego leads to half a dozen bodies on the floor. I hesitate to use the word ‘comedic’, but there is something acutely disturbing about the boundary between life and death: it is not nearly so solid and straight as we like to think. Perhaps amusement is my coping mechanism when it comes to such realisations.

Drina’s demise begins with her best friend insinuating that perhaps she’s just as arrogant as gossip tells. From there, an arrogance complex develops into distrust and withdrawal, prompting Drina into a series of progressively less wise decisions. One parallel relates her mother’s similar fall from glory—through an accident, it is worth saying, coupled with her inability to accept the singularity of life—though in fact it is Drina who gets the second chance; there’s something satisfyingly sacrificial about the climax, if I say so myself.

Anyway, unlike a Shakespearian tragedy, Drina gets another chance, flinging away the ‘solely singular’ Garden Clogs. There’s a reason it begins with Chopin and ends with Mendelssohn.

 

3.   Infinite Compression to Infinitesimal Volume

In terms of physics, the idea of an infinitely dense, infinitely voluminous point excites me. Lots of people believe black holes are some kind of portal to oblivion. A singularity is a point; sometimes it’s described as a ring. Get this: gravity deforms space-time to prevent ANYTHING from escaping. (Also, singular matrix in mathematics is an arrangement of terms with no inverse. That basically means it’s difficult to manipulate.) Contrary to #2, this singularity is infinite.

so beautiful

so beautiful

Drina is fundamentally self-interested, so you could be forgiven for thinking Drina is the singularity, the dense point at the centre of everything—gosh, Drina herself thinks so! She believes her success will attract her mother’s love.

Midway the set-up is flipped. Realising she’s just another galactic object, Drina alters her trajectory to accelerate her travel towards the black hole that is her mother’s ruination.

Warping space-time

Warping space-time

There’s something so cool about an inevitable path of fate, and a horizon only crossed in one direction. So, singularities warp space-time and quantities become physically infinite, they are weighty, powerful and at the pinnacle of destructive efficiency; ambitious physicist Drina, in the race for power, would definitely aspire such qualities—and definitely fall short of her aspirations.

 

 

4.   Individuality versus Community

A singular is a distinguishing quality or a peculiarity. Drina’s is that she has the capacity to become School Captain, and nobody else has that. In fact, that’s all she has that can possibly win her mother’s affections. But it also ignites the conflict between individuality and community, which composes the second major theme—not just in terms of whether to please oneself or those for whom one has responsibility, or grappling with standing out from the mob (or not!), but reliance on a significant other.

Drina’s self-esteem is dependent upon fulfilling her mother’s aspirations. The first act charts the drift and unvoiced betrayal of Drina and her best friend. While fearful of placing her welfare in the hands of another, whom she cannot control, Drina gradually surrenders to romantic love. Everyone might fancy her superwoman (including herself, at the beginning), but by the end she realises she can’t survive without other people—her power is not intrinsic, but channelled through those with whom she associates.

 

5.   Singularity and Suffering (Austen)

Singularity often makes the worst part of our suffering, as it always does of our conduct.’—Persuasion, Jane Austen. So that is our crudeness, single-mindedness, egotism, independence, vanity, conceit, ambition, obstinacy and power, our cyclic, infinite perception of life, both our overestimation and underestimation of our own significance. Maybe she’s even talking about singleness; her very voice seems to exalt the kind of community Immanuel Kant called the ‘Kingdom of Ends’ (I can’t think of another way to describe it). Austen ridicules society and abhors human selfishness, but there’s something undeniably unifying about reading her work.

You can almost breathe this guy's ego. (Oh, it's Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot, to whom the Persuasion quote applies.)

You can almost breathe this guy’s ego.
(Oh, it’s Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot, to whom the Persuasion quote applies.)

Anyhow, I like to think Austen’s equating singularity to suffering, and blaming both upon our conduct, but there are many many interpretations.

 

BONUS: ‘trick of singularity’, the Twelfth Night quote Alex was thinking of originally, is equally pertinent; when I first plotted the story, back in 2011, the tenor-changing plot-points matched the thirteen tricks of a bridge hand, and one of them I named ‘singularity’ (as discussed in #4). Sparknotes tells me ‘singularity’ in this quote means ‘free and independent’.

Hey. THE TRICK OF SINGULARITY. That might even work…

 

I may just have written an analysis of my own novel’s alternative title, and for that I very genuinely apologise! To make up for it, I’ve written another post for today. I promise it’s short!

 

 

 

Positively Austen

Music: REM – Accelerate

This past week my electricity has been on and off. An army of emergency roadwork-men and their torture instruments have rendered my bedroom (at the front of the house with poorly-fitted windows) a place of misery and headaches. And I’ve lost so many documents halfway through the creation, between power surges, bah.

This afternoon the electricity has, however, steadied itself, so I’ve caught up on a few things.

So have I used my internet-deprived time wisely? Well, I read Emma (1815). And P&P has been supplanted from its post of L’s Favourite Austen.

Firstly, a quick summary.

Twenty-one-year-old Emma Woodhouse, rich, clever and beautiful, is Highbury’s most successful matchmaker…whose conspiracies accidentally ruin the prospects of all those round her, and eventually her own.

2009 BBC serial adaptation starring Romola Garai - "Oohoo, my evil matchmaking plot is going to plan!"

2009 BBC serial adaptation starring Romola Garai – “Oohoo, my evil matchmaking plot is going to plan!”

The long version:

  • Harriet Smith falls in love three times in a single year;
  • pompous vicar Mr Elton and his vulgar wife cannot find anything to say that could possibly entertain Miss Woodhouse;
  • old Mr Woodhouse remarks upon the wholesome nature of gruel;
  • Mr John Knightley disdains all that threatens his independence;
  • Mrs Isabella Knightley talks of Dr Wingfield, and her father Mr Woodhouse of Dr Perry;
  • Perry’s children steal the cake;
  • Mr Weston is too hospitable, and his wife too commending of Emma;
  • Emma flirts with Frank;
  • Frank gives Miss Fairfax five alphabet blocks spelling a name of some embarrassment;
  • Miss Fairfax remains ‘reserved’,
  • though her aunt Miss Bates expounds [at great, great length] upon her virtues every Wednesday;
  • Emma insults Miss Bates;
  • Mr Knightley scolds Emma;
  • and Emma finally realises that if anyone marries Mr Knightley, then it must be herself—Mr Knightley, her lifelong friend, confidante, the only one to point out her faults, whom she has taken for granted all her life, who has loved her eight years, but never kissed her hand.
2009 BBC serial adaptation starring Romola Garai - excursion to Box Hill

excursion to Box Hill, with all the main cast

Some are quick to note that Emma Woodhouse is an anomaly amongst Austen’s other heroines. Her financial circumstances are already advantageous, and she does not mean to marry. Though she promotes matches, and advocates the feelings of all her acquaintances, she does not know her own!

Emma and the exciting Frank Churchill

Emma and the exciting Frank Churchill

Nevertheless, in my opinion Emma is Austen at her most romantic. Not because Emma calls herself a matchmaker, but because the novel is her journey to discovering that she is in love, and he has been waiting for her all that time. In the ups and downs of their relationship, he is always right, and she wrong. His influence over her is the most beautiful thing—for he is the only one whose candid opinion Emma admits, however unpleasant. They know one another so well they’ll fit easily into conjugal routine—whereas even Lizzy and Darcy have only known one another a year.

C'mon, I couldn't leave this out.

C’mon, I couldn’t leave this out.

P&P is the ultimate happily-ever-after love story, and Darcy the ‘babe’ of ‘babes’ (due in some part, I confess, to Colin Firth in a wet shirt).

Personally I don’t feel that Elizabeth suffers enough. Her pride is wounded, eventually her love—but her interminable wit is her buoy in a roiling sea. Emma’s active presumption carves her misfortunes; she deals with guilt. Elizabeth is surrounded by people who have far more to regret than she! Emma is an anti-heroine (as, in effect, most of us are), but Knightley’s devotion is oddly more justified than any of Austen’s other heroes’–why, in the last pages of Northanger Abbey it’s admitted that Henry Tilney loves Catherine Morland out of gratitude! What if that were a universal rule?

"Abominable flirting! I want to dance with Emma!"

“Abominable flirting! I want to dance with Emma!”

P&P wouldn’t even rival Emma were it not more tightly written (80k as opposed to 120k), and lacking the incontestable Miss Bates and Mr Woodhouse (I feel like screaming every time he mentions his gruel. No censure of John Knightley for voicing his frustration).

Persuasion is another rival of the time-assured P&P. It is Austen’s latest, and her characters comparatively ‘aged’ (Catherine is fifteen, roughly half the age of Anne Elliot). When I said that Elizabeth has not suffered enough, she has not half the suffering of poor Anne. ANNE IS STILL IN LOVE WITH CAPTAIN WENTWORTH, eight years after she rejected him. But she is gracious enough to suppress it, for his sake. The world needs more books about rejection. (Plus it’s so cool to think rejection is the only power women of that era had. Hence tragic that Anne was manipulated into it, and the Captain won’t humble himself a second time.)

Sally Hawkins looking tragic as Anne Elliot in the 2007 adaptation

Sally Hawkins looking tragic as Anne Elliot in the 2007 adaptation

Both film adaptations of Persuasion I find excellent. Equally heart-wrenching are the looks between Anne and Wentworth—in love, in denial, each in ignorance of the other’s devotion. It reads like a dream, for that’s what it is.

Another awesome thing about Emma is that there’s no direct antagonist. Emma’s demon conceit wreaks havoc, but she’s so HUMAN…I, at least, recognise her desire to manipulate people’s lives for her own amusement and triumph, though she may disguise it as genuine philanthropy. You can excuse her for wanting something to do with her life: single, childless, with an old father and an empty house, besides the societal pressures of being a woman at that time, Emma frankly has nothing better to do.

Mrs Elton and her 'caro sposo, Mister E', bleurgh *throws slimeballs*

Mrs Elton and her ‘caro sposo, Mister E’, bleurgh *throws slimeballs*

Anyway, there aren’t any Willoughbys and Wickhams with questionable motives: just a small town of multi-dimensional people who make their own suffering, not usually out of spite (the Eltons’ motives could be debated, but I find them more droll than malicious).

Finally the word play. Austen is famous for her way of twisting words to mock human and societal folly. Many people read her books solely for that purpose-

I was going to cite a few examples and analyse them and extol their wit, but I wrote this post in September and can’t remember where on earth my thought-chain was going. Perhaps I’ll finish that paragraph when I next read Austen. Sorry for any inconvenience caused, and for the abrupt(!) manner of ending. Perhaps it will amuse you.

"Hey, I didn't even know Mr Knightley could dance!" - the best of the Austen dances, hands down

“Hey, I didn’t even know Mr Knightley could dance!” – the best of the Austen dances, hands down