Fiction is dead still?

Afterwards I remembered with particular clarity seeing her in the doorway of the sitting room, our Anna, apparently calm, staring at Eduardo, who having turned towards the door, now pushed himself heavily up out of his armchair and stood facing the girl, who then moved swiftly towards him, her face white and her lips pressed tight together, and holding out her hands to him – and me thinking, it’s going to be all right after all – and Eduardo giving her his hand, and a second later a sharp loud cry of pain – fuck! – as he pulls violently away, his hand crumpling like a leaf and blood flowing, and him staring at it with his jaws and eyes wide, the blood pouring from between his clawing fingers as though he is trying to cup a bowl of it in his palm and cannot, for it is streaming through his fingers and splashing on to the polished hardwood floor.

This long piece, a sentence and paragraph in one, is from Patrick McGrath’s book from last year, Port Mungo.

Anna, Gin’s niece, has come back and seen Gin talking with Eduardo, Gin’s ex-lover. What I particularly enjoy reading this entire long sentence as one paragraph itself is the way Gin is lying to herself (and the reader) that she has remembered the scene clearly. The main clause of the sentence states her remembering clearly seeing Anna in the room. The rest of the sentence is in a loose, as opposed to periodic style, with trailing dependent clauses, a few of which having their own dependent clauses, like an onion or a Russian doll. It should, therefore, be quite easy to read and assimilate, as the main theme or topic is already given at the start of the sentence, and the clauses following are new information expanding on the theme. These new information begins with Gin being sentimental about seeing Anna calm and staring at Eduardo. Gin sees Eduardo getting up from his chair and Anna going at him with her hands out. There’s a break, like an aside, with Gin reassuring herself. She sees Eduardo offering his hand to Anna. Gin hears his cry: the four-letter expletive inside the dash parenthesis offers the perfect contrast to the earlier aside - in length, in mood, in speed of delivery. Gin sees his hand flowing with blood and his reaction to this, then her seeing is back to his bloody hand, and to the blood falling onto the floor.

Gin, all this while, has censored her memory of the event. She has left out the parts in her remembering in which there is a razor blade Anna uses to slash at Eduardo’s hand.

Naipaul is very, very wrong in declaring fiction to be dead. When a writer can produce such writing as above, fiction is still alive and kicking, as far as I’m concerned.


  1. Eric Forbes says

    Leon, I enjoy reading your musings on books and authors. Yes, the novel is not dead, as claimed by some people in the literary world; good fiction still has the power to tell us lots of things about our lives and the world we inhabit. Read James Meek’s third novel, The People’s Act of Love, and you will understand what I mean. It’s not often you get to enjoy such a well-realised work of literary fiction; there’s love, death and grim but wonderful insights into the nature of humanity, all written in Meek’s clear, lucid prose.

    Leon Wing says

    Thanks for reading my blog, and I do enjoy also reading your blog regularly. That's where I get to know which latest novel to look out for at the book shops. I'm looking forward to reading Meek's new book. I'm keeping a look out for it at Kino, where I usually get most of my reading material. Just recently from Kino I acquired a 30% off trade paperback of Zadie Smith's On Beauty, using the Starmag cutting from Sept 4 - that's around 42 ringgit out of the full price of 60 odd!!! that's a real bargain. I was also looking to get Ali Smith and Julian Barnes, but they were all sold out.

    Eric Forbes says

    Yes, Zadie Smith's new novel, ON BEAUTY (2005), at around 42 ringgit, is a tremendous bargain. You might also like to check out Amos Oz's memoir, A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS (2004), which is now out in paperback. Definitely a book to be treasured. Happy reading!

    Leon Wing says

    Thanks Eric, I'll check out Amos Oz's memoir on my next trip to the book stores.

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