Monday, 21 April 2008

Creative Writing - also, a book review

I am reading The Time Traveller's Wife. Again.

And wondering, why I love this story so much.

In a nutshell, this is sci-fi, but that's the least important part of it. In terms of sheer technique, it's quite remarkable. Apparently, Audrey Niffenegger took four years to finish it off. Which isn't very surprising, considering the hero (and I hate the word protagonist, so hero will have to do) suffers from a genetic abnormality that makes him time travel (duh!) , which makes the story weave back and forth across time, sometimes where two of him are present at the same time. Quite fantastical, ingenuous and never overwhelming.

You get the hang of it very quickly and here's a tip, pay close attention to the chapter headings.

Comic relief is not very rampant here, it's essentially a tender romance. And while you can guess where it must head, it's never morbid or cynical. You identify with Clare and can picture their domesticity. And although very few of us are ever likely to meet a time travelling, fantastically fit, fluent in three languages, librarian hunk of a guy that worships the ground we walk on (okay at least one reason why I love the book is clearly because I have a slight crush on Henry), you know what she means when she says: "'s better to be happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life..."

It's nothing like The Lovely Bones, which I hated because it was a morbid tear jerker. Neither is it like Carol Shields or Anne Tyler, who seem too dispassionate about the characters they create.

Audrey seems to love Henry and Clare. And you start loving them too. They adore each other and you can see why. You adore them too.

And while you don't exactly grab for tissues, you do get swept along with them as they live and love each other through foibles and flaws.

If I ever get around to writing a book, I know now, I'll write it for myself. I'll create characters I can love or hate, and I will cry when they do hurtful things to each other. But it's so difficult getting words to do what you want with them! While you watch out for annoying things like repetitive usage, meandering and over dramatisation of events, or on the flip side, an overtly cryptic style, you tend to forget you are writing of human beings.

Sometimes it seems easy because you write the way you think. And sometimes, you wonder if you are making any sense at all.

That's why, when you come across a book which seems very close to something you would want to write yourself, you like it immensely. And hats off to Ms Niffenegger for achieving just that.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

The real Mr Darcy

Readingwise, nothing can beat the year when I discovered the following books, back to back - Gone with the Wind, Pride & Prejudice and Rebecca. All three remain my perennial favourites. Elizabeth's wit, Scarlett's courage and charm, the gauche herione crippled by shyness in Rebecca inspired in me ambitions I had scarcely dared to entertain.

And the men!

Swashbuckling Rhett, whose sardonic eyebrow cocking smile hid a yearning to be understood. Kind, noble Maxim. Who, all gruff and grim, never let on his fears. And the imperious Darcy. Who humbled himself before the woman he came to admire.

I lived in those worlds then. Still do sometimes, it must be admitted. Every afternoon, my reading corner in the Southern Avenue flat would magically disappear, and I would be in Atlanta, peeping behind voluminous skirts as men bowed and women tossed their curls. Or I would be running along to the cove in Manderley, heart in my mouth, as the Cornish sea frothed in menace.

I suspect, all these women writers, at some point, were little girls much like I was. And maybe Margaret Mitchel really did meet her Rhett. Or Daphne du Maurier really did love a Maxim. Her precious Manderley does exist, so did perhaps Mr de Winter.

Much has been made of Austen's little romance with a young Irishman named Tom Lefroy in the movie Becoming Jane. So while that solves our mystery of who the real Darcy was, why Jane never let go of her prejudices to be united with her Darcy, I wonder. She died young, leaving behind her works that continue to charm and enthrall. But did she die of a broken heart?

It's true though, to create something that moves us as much as these beautiful pieces of literature do, requires much more than talent, ingenuity and wit. It needs that special brand of wisdom and feeling that can only come from one who has experienced something similar. From someone who has known great love and even greater pain.

I had known neither when I first read these books. But now that I am older, and have seen much more than I ever thought I would, these books still touch me in a way few things can. That's the real magic these women had. And while many maudlin efforts are made everyday to reach some of their stature, I would be surprised if anyone really can.