I've just read Philip Ardagh's "Awful End". It's beautifully written but I found it somehow annoying. He plays with so many layers of narrative that the core story is, in my opinion, sapped by the cleverness. If you haven't read him, here's an extract, to show you what I mean:
"Eddie was now out in a yard with high brick walls on three sides and a huge locked gate on the fourth. The gate wouldn't be a problem because Eddie felt sure that one of the keys in the bunch in his hand would open it. He was more interested by what was in the yard. It was an enormous float.
[So far so good.]
I don't mean one of those things that people take into a swimming pool with them when they're learning to swim, or one of those things that bobs around in the top of a milk shake. I mean a carnival float - a large cart that has been decorated to use in a carnival procession. This float had been made to look like a giant cow.
Now, I wouldn't be surprised if the more sensible ones among you are wondering what a carnival float designed to look like a giant cow was doing in the locked courtyard of an orphanage. It's certainly the sort of question that would cross my mind if I was reading this story and not writing it. Well, I'll tell you."
I'm thinking, "Get on with it." The whole book is like this. Ardagh does it on purpose.
The structuralists, particularly Gérard Genette, researched all the different potential layers of a narrative: real author, implied author, narrator, characters, narratee, implied reader, real reader etc. Ardagh, it seems to me, is greedy to be all of these - or at least to show his consciousness of them - and to what purpose?
OK, the book is aimed at children, a fact which Ardagh, like many children's authors, takes to be a licence to be more patronising, as if he needs to show he knows how a young reader's mind works. I'm a believer that books should be written, as much as possible, for readers of all ages, which, I know, makes me odd.
Looking at the way literary novels have mostly been written since Structuralism made its first big impact in the sixties, I tend to feel - and I know I'm more or less out on my own on this - that the wrong lesson was learned from Structuralism - that writers should add more layers of irony, consciousness, psychology, points of view, modses of discourse etc. to their texts, to make them richer and more contemporary. The result has been, in my opinion, more interruption to the stories the narratives are essentially about, and a loss of primary story telling.
The really exciting finding of the Structuralists, for me, was that the story exists outside the narrative. If one person tells another what a novel was about he or she is telling the story and leaving the text behind. It follows from that - at least in my mind - that the way to restore story to its true vitality, the vitality it must have had in preliterate times and which it still has orally, is to cut the "layers" of the text to the bone.
That doesn't mean less complexity. The crafty story has complexity embedded in its plot and characters, and then the reader is handed the responsibility for its interpretation instead of having three quarters of its work done for it by the writer, as is the case with Ardagh.
d.beswetherick. (Sorry, that was more like an essay.)