…a paired down, boiled down and dried out expression    

The problem with fiction, as Oscar saw it, is that people don’t believe it. Even if you write down what happened in your average day, people wouldn’t believe it – I don’t buy it. The character is unconvincing. Who would react in that way? That’s not the way the world works. That character lacks verisimilitude. Where’s the motivation? I can’t believe in these characters. – In short, people are fucking stupid.

Oscar couldn’t remember the last novel he read – he had a vague recollection of some hidden island where people live forever, accompanied by an uneasy feeling which he couldn’t explain – the image of various faceless characters slitting their own wrists flitted past Oscar’s muddied consciousness.

The problem with fiction, as Oscar saw it, is that he didn’t believe it. As soon as something happened or someone said anything – he wouldn’t believe it. And something had to happen, someone had to say something, otherwise you’d get one of those interminably boring novels which go on and on about the sky or the moors or the weather or the nature of the human condition and nothing ever really happens, apart from maybe rain falling or the last leaf blowing off a tree in autumn or the sun setting over fourteen pages of crimson and brilliance. But as soon as something happened, as soon as a character uttered something, something even as blasé and irreproachable as “pass the salt”, Oscar just felt it smacked of fiction, it was obviously false, highly unlikely and completely without the truth engrained in real experience.

Now, Oscar could go on at length about the truth engrained in real experience – he had written a string of aphorisms about the truth of experience, ranging from the deeply insightful “One would rather have a pain in one’s soul than a pain in one’s tooth.” to the commonsensical “There’s no business like your own business.” But as soon as he was dealing with fictional experience, experiences which didn’t originate in reality, he stumbled and got lost. After all, what can you say about something which never happened? What’s so important, what’s so telling about, what’s the big deal about some character who consists of a made up name, a briefly sketched background, eleven adjectives and a miserable existence in St Petersburg who goes and kills some old woman and then tears himself up about it?

But what got Oscar was that all you really needed was one action, one thing to happen, to make a novel – for example the carefully planned and poorly executed murder of an old miserly bitch and her retarded younger sister, and then you could spend the rest of the novel going on about guilt and remorse and blame and all of that. But one action was, up to now, beyond him.

The idea of basing his novel on a real event and its consequences had never really struck Oscar as the best way forward. No matter how real an event was, as soon as you put it in a novel it would smack heavily of fiction. But having no other recourse, he decided to go along with Smith’s ill thought out plan of surreptitiously getting Henry addicted to nicotine gum and getting him fired from his job at Didsbury Girls’ – the plot would certainly thicken.

And after the event, Oscar would rather eschew all of that wondering and pondering and reflecting about what happened – a novella would be far more preferable to a bible-sized doorstop. But one event only a few pages makes – what Oscar was hoping for, what Smith promised, was a domino effect – this will start it all off. So all Oscar had to do was to sit back and watch it all collapse.

But he would pare it all down so that the hard seeds of his witty aphorisms – on life, on Henry’s character, on the nature of reality, on the falsehoods of morality, on the misconceptions of the general population, and so on, would shine through. He would pare down Henry’s descent to the bare bones – not for Oscar all of that flowery writing which loves itself so much it just can’t stop itself from spilling all over the page and more or less drowning itself and gasping for air and only swallowing water and chewing on seaweed and sand – Oh, what will happen to Henry? Oh, what could be around the next corner? Oh, what is the world coming to? Oh, how will it all end? Oh, how can people be so cruel? Oh, I can’t look – how can I look?

Instead of posing such questions and launching into pages and pages of fluffy wondering and dithering, Oscar would lay it all out nice on neatly, in a very matter of fact manner, on the page, brief chapter after brief chapter, even resorting to bullet points if any really complex events unfolded themselves, for his impressionable reader:

  • Henry would fall to pieces and the pieces would collect themselves in time.
  • Around the next corner will be Henry’s next and inevitable stumble further down the ladder and closer to the ditch brimming full of shit.
  • The world is coming to naught – it will be as it has always been.
  • As has already been heavily implied, it will end with Henry in the shit.
  • People are neither cruel or the opposite of cruel – “cruelty” is merely a subjective label applied by those who have a tendency to suffer from such acts.
  • The ending isn’t contained in the beginning – that statement is nonsense.
  • Henry’s character isn’t a deep and dark cave which needs to be explored.
  • The anxiety, misery and physical pain Henry suffers will not be redeeming.
  • The subsidiary characters’ motivation is irrelevant.
  • If Henry speaks like a character in a novel, then such is the case.

The search for the truth, for Oscar, isn’t fraught with difficulty. It’s simply a matter of opening your eyes and seeing what’s there in front of you. That most people should not do so, i.e. simply open their own eyes and see what’s in front of them, was of no surprise to Oscar. People aren’t partial to the truth and would much rather it was hidden behind a detailed description of the contents of the hero’s cupboards or a lengthy description of the hero’s past – starting with how a great-grandfather came to impregnate a great-grandmother and so on and so on until the hero is pushed out covered in vermillion or some such colour on page one-hundred-and-seventy-four.

Nonetheless, Oscar informed himself of such details – searching through Henry’s cupboards as he began to doze in front of an episode of some American sitcom, noting down anything peculiar which he found – two jars of petroleum jelly, both opened; a rusty screwdriver covered in some dark viscous substance which had fallen in the gap between the cooker and the sink; upwards of two dozen very sharp knives hidden in the back of the tea-towel drawer and what at first looked like some kind of surreal ant hill in the small room at the end of the corridor but which was in fact a column formed by a stack of completed jigsaw puzzles, the height of which suggesting that their number must have run into the hundreds, each fully made, glued onto a thin card and stacked on top of each other.

But when it came to Henry recounting his personal history Oscar lost interest so quickly and so completely that he offended his friend so severely such that he left Oscar’s house and returned to his pile of jigsaws for the whole of the next week.


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