SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF

SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF

 

I wake up early in the morning and begin reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo
Calvino.   It’s on my list – no idea why.   (I’m ploughing through, on my list from several years ago, a whole tranche of books on essays on English literature, so it is possible it was suggested as an example of a type of
novel.)

So, the Calvino.   It’s a tease.  So far it’s about the process of reading a novel, and our expectations are continually dashed.    It’s as if the author stood behind you, continually looking over your shoulder and interrupting.    It is amusing, clever, different.   I arrive at page 34, however and now I am becoming irritated.    I am famously (or notoriously depending on where you stand) fast to a decision, and readily  bored, and I find abandoning things very easy.    John (and my friend Anne) want their money’s worth;   they can see things through to the bitter end;  and I can see the virtue of that viewpoint too, so I have quite often sat through things with them that left to my own devices I would have left after 15 minutes.    (They rarely do improve, but at least if you stay, you know you gave them every chance.)

We once went to a summer production of the Tempest in a nearby garden, Anne, Carolyn, Nan on a visit
from Scotland and most of our spouses.   I read the production notes, and announced, Let’s go now.   Of course I was over-ruled, and we had an enjoyable evening together, and saw the play.   The staging was very good; the acting was quite acceptable; the costumes were wonderful – but the production failed, because the director (in my opinion) had no idea at all what the play was actually about.

Anyway, I leave the Calvino to do other things and return to it later but it is no use.   Once you arrive at that state where the unspoken collaboration between writer and reader has dissolved, then the novel
turns, as in fairy stories, to ashes in your hands.    That suspension of disbelief, so essential for enjoyment of a novel, has been lost.    This author is extremely intelligent and erudite and he can present his material in any disguise he chooses.      He interrupts himself; he leads us up blind alleys;  he loses us in city badlands and leaves us with neither money nor a map.   He plays a game of cat and mouse.   But of course
this is a game only the author can win, since he is writing the drama.   As I proceed, I come to dislike him, and I do not wish to play the only role allocated to the reader:  the manipulated object.

After about 60 pages I begin to ‘skiff’.     To skiff means to row across a body of water in a small boat, so I don’t know quite why I misuse this word – perhaps there is the suggestion of just slipping along on the
surface of things, for I mean I turn the pages of the book, looking to see if anything jumps out and stops me in my progression through the pages; when I get to the end, I read the last page.      It is as I suspected – there is no story.     I wonder if this creation – rather like the froth on a coffee, but without the coffee – was easier to produce than an actual novel.

To add insult to injury, I find a few comments have been pencilled in on the final pages.   I loathe any markings on a book.   These are difficult to read.   They don’t make sense as they stand, nor can
I find any meaningful connection between the notes and the text.    When I find myself squinting at the page to determine whether the notes are actually an authorial device, I think Paranoia alert!   This book isn’t good for the reader – open at your peril.   Or actually, don’t.   It’s not worth the bother.

This author is too clever for me.

PS   When I consult the oracle (ie the internet) this is a famous ‘post modernist’ puzzle.    Sting
named one of his albums after it, which places it just about where I figured it should go.

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