Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How real is real-world fiction?

I've long loved to write and tell stories, but I've had a lot to learn, over the years, about how to write and tell stories. First there was that great head-teacher who made me choose between the pencil and microphone, thus teaching me to write. Then there was the brother who told me all fiction is lies, thus teaching me not to write. Then a friend suggested how wrong it was that people never go to the bathroom in children's novels. "Maybe they do in grown-up ones," she suggested. So I started to read the library  book under Mum's bed while I dusted her room. Nobody went to the bathroom there either. So I start to write "real" stories where every detail was told, and then I learned it's better to "show now tell," and then... Well, I learned, slowly. And people don't go to the bathroom much in my books, children's or adult's. After all, I don't tell how many breaths they take from morning to evening either.

But how real should novels be if they're set in the real world? I've read a fine collection of real-world, gritty-world, wounded-world novels recently, and they all feel real, and they're all very different from each other. Somehow I suspect it's the characters and the way we view the world through the characters' eyes that makes it real, but what do you think? Grab a coffee and read some book reviews while you decide.

First in my list is Hot Start by David Freed, another novel of aspiring Buddhist agent-turned-flight-instructor Cordell Logan, as he steps in, again, to help someone who can't (and rather seriously won't) help himself. The California heat, the heat of politics and murder, the warmth of unworkable love, or the purring warmth of the very strange cat called Kiddiot -- all of these combine in a tale of murder with multiple red herrings, scary dangers, flights to Europe and back, all told with Logan's convincingly low-key, gently humorous, self-deprecatingly natural written voice. Enjoy this smooth, warm read with a smoothly elegant and complex 4-star coffee.

Then there's Blacklist by Sara Paretsky, part of a much longer series, with serious popular acclaim. I'd already enjoyed the beginning of the series, but this novel will have a much more special place in my memory, combining present-day, post-911 concerns so effectively with McCarthyism of the past. The mystery is filled with twists and turns, the rooms are filled with rich and poor, and the reading is filled with thought-provoking dichotomies, and a welcome reminder that rushing to judgement is almost never right. Enjoy some more complex 4-star coffee with this literarily pleasing and complex tale.

The mystery is much smaller and more personal in Coincidences by Maria Savva, where a young woman searches for her father, inspired by strange dreams of a stranger on the news. Meanwhile her mother struggles with questions of how to hide daughter from the father who betrayed her. And a friend urges honesty. The story delves into issues of secrets and lies, protection and truth, and twists through its own strange coincidences on its way to a final resolution. Sometimes predictable, but filled with very real-world believable characters, it a good book to read over a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Finally a wonderfully English novel evokes the countryside in a way rarely seen, with dark honesty, intriguing personality, and hauntingly evocative description. The Burnt Fox by Neil Grimmett invites readers to explore the real world of caring for the rich, preparing for the hunt, country farming, isolation, forestry, and life away from the brutal misery of a council housing estate. Perhaps there's something brutal and miserable in old-world realities too, or something dark in this home, or maybe just the darkness of human nature. It's cool, dark, scary, humorous, and an absolute treat to read. Enjoy with some complex, elegant 4-star coffee.

Of all these worlds, the fourth might perhaps be most real and the first most thoroughly intriguing. But how real is your world?



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