The Other Book: Bewilderments of Fiction (Stages)
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This is what Aristotle meant when he said that a convincing impossibility is preferable in literature to an unconvincing possibility. Yet this great freedom shows how dangerous fiction can be, and why its transit with lies has historically been subversive and threatening. Again, McEwan wants us to reflect on these matters. And take the reasonable view and begin to assign the blame? No one would ever know what it was like to be here. Without the details there could be no larger picture. But—and this is a gigantic but, surely, which this novel acknowledges—those details may be invented, may never have happened in history.
In Part Three, we see Briony working as a trainee nurse at a London hospital. Late in the section, she visits her estranged sister in Clapham, and finds her living with Robbie, who has briefly returned from his army service in France. Further up, where she hardly dared look, were the exposed muscles around his eye socket.
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So intimate, and never intended to be seen. It is convincing enough, but its neatness seems like the reappearance of the old McEwan, unwilling to let the ropes fall from his hands. In an epilogue, set in , we learn that Briony, now a distinguished old novelist, wrote the three sections—the country house scene, the Dunkirk retreat, and the London hospital—that we have just read. Moreover, Robbie and Cecilia were never together, as the third section suggested. Robbie was killed in France in , and Cecilia died in the same year in London, during the German bombing.
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She could not resist the chance to spare the young lovers, to continue their lives into fiction, to give the story a happy ending. But it is unnecessary, unless the slightly self-defeating point is to signal that the author is himself finally incapable of resisting the distortions of tidiness. It is unnecessary because the novel has already raised, powerfully but murmuringly, the questions that this final revelation shouts out.
And it is unnecessary because the fineness of the book as a novel, as a distinguished and complex evocation of English life before and during the war, burns away the theoretical, and implants in the memory a living, flaming presence. In one typical scene, we watch Briony as she sits and plays with her hands: She raised one hand and flexed its fingers and wondered, as she had sometimes before, how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be hers, entirely at her command.
Or did it have some little life of its own?
She bent her finger and straightened it. The mystery was in the instance before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when her intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking. If she could only find herself at the crest, she thought, she might find the secret of herself, that part of her that was really in charge. She brought her forefinger closer to her face and stared at it, urging it to move.
It remained still because she was pretending, she was not entirely serious, and because willing it to move, or being about to move it, was not the same as actually moving it. And when she did crook it finally, the action seemed to start in the finger itself, not in some part of her mind.
When did it know to move, when did she know to move it? She could write the scene from three different perspectives, she excitedly realizes, from three points of view; her excitement was in the prospect of freedom, of being delivered from the cumbrous struggle between good and bad, heroes and villains. None of these three was bad, nor were they particularly good. She need not judge. There did not have to be a moral.
She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value. She needs to make a story of it: Surely it was not too childish to say there had to be a story; and this was the story of a man whom everybody liked, but about whom the heroine always had her doubts, and finally she was able to reveal that he was the incarnation of evil. There must be some lofty, god-like place from which all people could be judged alike, not pitted against each other If such a place existed, she was not worthy of it.
She could never forgive Robbie his disgusting mind. And one day Robbie turns to hear behind him a rhythmic pounding on the road: At first sight it seemed that an enormous horizontal door was flying up the road towards them.
It was a platoon of Welsh Guards in good order, rifles at the slope, led by a second-lieutenant. They came by at a forced march, their gaze fixed forwards, their arms swinging high. The stragglers stood aside to let them through. These were cynical times, but no one risked a catcall. Ask a question.
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Others, such as his critics, suggested that he was wisest when he was overcome with despair. When Lewis was first attempting to publish his manuscript, his literary agent, Spencer Curtis Brown, sent it to the publishing company Faber and Faber. One of the directors of the company at the time was T.
Eliot , who found the book intensely moving. In the forward, she speaks of her own grief after losing her husband and notes the similarities and differences. She makes a point similar to Douglas Gresham 's: each grief is different, even if they bear similarities.
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The Problem of Pain seeks to provide theory behind the pain in the world. A Grief Observed is the reality of the theory in the former book. It was more difficult to apply the theories that he posited to a pain with which he was so intimately involved. At first, it is hard for Lewis to see the reason of his theories during the anguish of his wife's death but throughout the book, the gradual reacceptance of his theories and the reacceptance of the necessity of suffering can be seen.
Lewis' difficulty is specifically reflected in the following passage from the book: "Is anything more certain than that in all those vast times and spaces, if I were allowed to search them, I should nowhere find her face, her voice, her touch? She died. She is dead. Is the word so difficult to learn? Also, Lewis' ultimate resolution of his dilemma is partly articulated in the book: "I will not, if I can help it, shin up either the feathery or the prickly tree. Two widely different convictions press more and more on my mind.