21 September 2008

Interdigitated fiction

In a recent email comment, Dr C commented that "It is just amazing how the past interweaves amongst people. You need to do a piece not about parallel history but how it interdigitates".

He's right. His context was real life, but there is a type of fiction which draws power from doing exactly the same. One example is Vikram Seth's A suitable boy trilogy, where every new person mentioned (however peripheral they may seem to be) can spin off a new biography which may or may not later circle round to re-enter the narrative and intersect with other orbits.

At the other end of the structure scale is Kate Atkinson's wonderful Not the end of the world. A journalist, a doppelganger, Artemis the hunter, a nanny, a suburban divorced mum and her ungrateful teenage children, two women shopping in an end times London, another woman loved and left by a cat, the discoverer of eternal life and her slobbish temporary boyfriend, Buffy the vampire slayer, an orphan who keeps his dead wife's little finger, a traffic cop ... all tangentially interpenetrate each other's stories unnoticed by the main protagonists.

  • Kate Atkinson. Not the end of the world. 2002, London: Black Swan. 0552771058
  • Vikram Seth, A suitable boy. 1995, London: Phoenix. 1857993578.

    Poor Pothecary said...

    A couple of examples that spring to mind: Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, a series of connected stories connected by the device of a minor character in one story becoming the lead in the next; and the film Magnolia.

    A while back a friend into scriptwriting gave a talk that classified stories - and I don't know how canonical this is - into "male plots" about some kind of quest of a single character, and "female plots" of this interdigitated type. (The gender of the central character(s) is irrelevant to to the classication).

    Robina Khan said...

    And _Crash_ (Paul Haggis, 2005) - Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock, "Ludacris" Bridges, and others, all intertwining across Los Angeles. All in flashback leading up to the opening scene.