Posted on | June 11, 2010 | 8 Comments
There’s a thin line between reality and fiction; they oft’ reflect each other very closely, so much so that the line is indiscernible. But – what happens when reality starts imitating fiction?
That’s the basic premise of Spark’s 1981 novel, starring Fleur Talbot: an aspiring writer in London in the 1950s. She’s writing her first novel, Warrender Chase, but she needs a job to get by while she finishes it. And so, she takes up the position of the secretary to Sir Quentin Oliver, and his brainchild: The Autobiographical Association.
The Autobiographical Association comprises of a bunch of people who write their memoirs, which are to be published in the future, when anyone and everyone mentioned in the autobiographies are dead. In a manner of speaking, it’s almost like a time capsule.
A myriad of entertaining characters are created by Spark, to fill in the roles of the members of the Association – each more warped than the other. Fleur, the narrator, ends up “enriching” their otherwise mundane autobiographies. However, right before her eyes, the scenes from the office start resembling her novel – which she had started before taking the job! What’s is Sir Quentin’s end goal? And to what lengths is he ready to go to in order to achieve his end goal?
In Fleur, we have a witty likeable narrator, who says it as she sees it.
I always desired books; nearly all of my bills were for books. I possessed one very rare book which I traded for part of my bill with another bookshop, for I wasn’t a bibliophile of any kind; rare books didn’t interest me for their rarity but their content. I borrowed frequently from the public library, but often I would go into a bookshop and in my longing to possess, let us say, the Collected Poems of Arthur Clough and a new Collected Chaucer, I would get into conversation with the bookseller and run up another bill.
She befriends Sir Quentin’s mother, Lady Edwina, who is an eccentric character, with a mischievous side. And then there’s the despicable Beryl Tims – the apparent love interest of Sir Quentin – who works with him, and finally, Sir Quentin himself – a character who’s extremely unlikeable and becomes a shade more repulsive with each turn of the page. It’s these characters that carry this work of metafiction, and makes it a fascinating read.
I think I didn’t get enough out of the book, by virtue of not knowing much about a couple of authors (Benvenuto Cellini and John Henry Newman) whose works Fleur (and a couple of other characters) refers to at regular intervals (quoting passages as well), setting them as model autobiographies.
I also thought Warrender Chase sounded like a pretty dreadful book (not one I’d like to read, anyway). Maybe in a parallel universe, where novels are actually a byproduct of reality, this book exists, and the “lucid readers” are singing a different tune. If not that, maybe it has a “cult” following. What do I know?