Sunday, 23 August 2009

If people would only behave sensibly, there'd be no plots at all

I was going to blog about a couple of YA novels, which I will do very soon but two trips to the theatre have reminded me of some unrealistic feelings I sometimes have as a reader/spectator, which I don't have as a writer.

On of the plays was Racine's Phèdre, in the Ted Hughes translation at the National. I've always been a tad sceptical about "Vénus toute entière à sa proie attachée" because it appears to exonerate the character from all actions. Its all very well in real Greek myth, where characters behave according to predestined patterns, and in Greek tragedy which still seems close to it but by 17th century France it seems a pretty feeble excuse.

And the play is so monolithic, with nothing by way of sub-plot or entwined plot strands that you are left with this two hours of "incestuous" lust which is eating this middle-aged stepmother up. (Actually Helen Mirren is in her 60s but the age gap between Phaedra and Hippolytus would not have been so great - there isn't really the toyboy element that the casting of Mirren and Dominic Cooper introduced).

You can tell I wasn't really engaged and I wanted to tell her to pull herself together! It reminded me of watching a good TV dramatisation of Conrad's Nostromo many years ago. There are two men and two women - very neat but both men are in love with the same woman (shades of Midsummer Night's dream but Conrad had no Moly juice). I remember grumbling at the screen, "Why can't you just love the other one?"

Has anyone else wanted to say to Cathy "How can you like that horrible man Heathcliff? Don't you know he hanged Isabella's little dog?" Or begged Dorothea not to marry Mr Casaubon?

But life isn't like that and nor is fiction. People don't do the tidy thing and I never expect them to when I write about them. In fact they behave in all sorts of unpredictable ways even to me who have the ridiculous notion that I created them.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.


The Pineapple Tart said...

I always thought Jane Eyre talked too much.

Clare said...

I caused a lot of problems for myself by modeling my love life on the love lives I'd read about in books -- and talking with thirty-something friends, I know I'm not the only one. It was all pain and horror -- because of course, no heroine in a novel is happy until she has suffered horribly. I really thought that people who didn't suffer were BORING.

When the real thing came along, it was nothing like any story, and it didn't involve any suffering and it wasn't boring. Stories seen to dump the reader with a 'and they lived happily ever after' at the most challenging point.

I know now that I was a very silly little girl to be so influenced by fiction, but does anyone else ever wonder if they are adding to the world's unhappiness by setting such a terrible example?

But what would you think of a book in which the protagonist talks things over with their loved ones and gets help, rather than letting a secret fester until it explodes and destroys everything for which they care?

Lucy Coats said...

Yes, Mary, I always want to shout at Cathy. And I also always want to shout at Othello too, when Iago entwines him in his Machiavellian toils. It's all so STUPID to the watching eye, but that's what makes it a great play--at least in my opinion. I always come out feeling shattered and having a dialogue in my head as to WHY it had to turn out like that. Every time, no matter that it's the twentieth time. And that applies no less to great books where ridiculous and unpredictable actions occur. Personally speaking, a book only comes alive for me when a character I am writing about starts talking back and refusing to do what I want--and I have to let them walk their own (irresponsible) path.