Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Lagi Hai

I read this book by Michael Palmer the other day. A decent enough book I suppose - the usual pot-boiler of good, evil, beautiful woman and Robin Cook meets Tess Geritsen meets countless other formulaic train reading.

But as I was reaching the close and climax of the book, I realized something which I found rather interesting about some authors in this genre. The book started out with reasonably etched out, well-rounded characters. There was the slightly do-gooder protagonist (the type who helps elderly ladies cross the street) and the slightly non-do-gooder anti-protagonist (the type who ignore their wives and philander a bit.).

As the book progressed, it seemed like the author, in the quest to heighten the differences between the two started emphasizing only that facet and consequently propelled the book from a decently layered, gray characters and situations to stark black and white, one-dimensional caricatures. (The philander blandly contemplating everything from mass embezzlement to murder, while the do-gooder appeared almost sanctimonious with his general benevolence.)

It was disappointing – as if one started watching say, a Clint Eastwood directorial venture, and somewhere in the middle of the movie, Ekta Kapoor took over.

This is a phenomenon which I have seen with a few authors of that particular genre though – and I wonder why it happens. I assume it is difficult to maintain consistency of characters through the plot, but somewhere in books like this, it’s as if the characters get subsumed by the frenetic pace the author is trying to create towards the climax of the plot.

Which raises an interesting point. If we divide the universe of books, and call them for the sake of simplicity, classics and pop fiction. The classics being the ones which one reads again and again, and store versus the one-read, use-and-throw pop fiction. The classics, by and large have such strongly etched out, layered, multi-dimensional characters which carry the tale on their shoulders, whereas the pop-fiction seem to depend on the convolutions and contortions of the plot. Almost as if the latter wants to keep predictable characters which do not allow the reader any margin for interpretation and thereby, the books become static and one-read-only.

That brings me to another point – something which has always bothered me about what I call the magnum-opus books which span a large time frame – whether it’s multi-generational books or books which cover the entire lifetime of the protagonist.

Why is it that such books, seem to have a very elaborate, very detailed very vivid descriptions of the first few years – which sometimes takes over the first half of the book. And suddenly, you find that the forty-fifty years get squashed in haphazardly into a few pages? As if the author ran out of steam or inclination and just wanted to wind up the book and go away? Whether it is something like Thornbirds, or Alex Haley’s Roots or even books like Vikram Seth's Suitable Boy

I know it is important to set the context and boundaries – but then it’s such a drastic change of pace for the reader, that it leaves one feeling disoriented and cheated at the anti-climax. As if the book got suddenly truncated in the middle ( except for Suitable Boy. After 1500 pages, I was hoping the damn book WOULD end somewhere).

I just shared this post with a friend of mine, and she came back with a theory that most author's would be in their thirties and forties and perhaps they don't have the life experiences to detail out the late middle and old age. I am not sure I completely agree with that - most fiction is stuff which presumably the author has NOT experienced - so how does one explain that?

What do you think?


Meira said...

Their publishers have given them a page number restriction. So, due to conventional human tendency, they begin in detail and as the page limitation looms...they crisp-ify ?

narendra shenoy said...

Off topic - I read somewhere that Vikram Seth got 14 crores as an advance for the sequel to Suitable Boy. Considering that I (or indeed anyone I know) never managed to get past the first two pages of Suitable Boy (low brow me and my circle of acquaintances). I think that's terribly clever of Vikram

Thanatos said...

Reminds of Kite Runner. The first half was poignant, shocking and an emotional roller-coaster. The second half was simply another Bourne movie.

I think the authors start eying hollywood at the halfway point.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Missed ya all these days :|

I hate that nowadays stories have black and white characters. Hardly any grey characters!

D said...

The difference between a classic and pulp fiction is that the characters in the former are not just rounded and well etched, it's that they become characters in the readers' eyes by what they do/say and not by narrative intrusion. In pulp fiction, the author has an idea of what he wants a character to be like, but due to restrictions in his/her writing, is forced to resort to presenting the reader with unconvincing and pre-conceived conclusions about the character through the narrative voice. Which is where the reader is able to make out the difference between what the author wants to show and what he is able to show.

Also, some of pulp fiction is also written well, I think, and has good characterisation.

Mampi said...

yeah you are so right, i did feel disoriented in the middle of Roots and also in the middle of Thornbirds.
didn't think it ws a general phenomenon.

Suchismita said...

I think That you are right and the authors run out of steam/inclination halfway. Then again I could be agreeing with you because I like your writing. Chanced upon this space. Loved the one about the 'butter did it'... So,'I vil be bhack'