A Layercake of Fiction

The other day I started seeing a film called "Sleuth" with Michael Caine and Jude Law. I thought the premise (two men meet in the older man´s grand home, and it´s about a woman, of course) reminded me a lot of a novel I read years ago, when we were in Budapest, "Embers" by Sándor Márai. And, in one of the first minutes, the older man asks the younger if his name is Hungarian, by any chance. No, says the younger man, it´s not. Really? says the older, I could have sworn it was Hungarian. Or something like that. I think they mentioned Hungarian three times, so one would not miss it. A wink to Mr Márai, I imagine, or anyone who is aquainted with him, more like. It made me feel very clever. I didn´t watch "Sleuth" to the end. Where Márai´s novel was subtle, spooky and understated, this film was violent and kind of screamy. I didn´t much care for it.

I have heard somewhere that there really are only about seven ideas for stories, and the rest are variations on them. I can well believe it. I think most novels are written by someone thinking "I can tell that story better" or "I know something more about this". In that sense I think literature is a slow conversation between writers, who are, in essence, readers who wish to respond.

I´m not sure why this leads up to the latest of my reads. I was recommended Håkan Nesser´s "Himmel över London" (= sky over London). He is not someone I would read, as I have not liked his crime novels about van Veeteren (these are translated to English) much. Or at all. However, I started it, and really, I find the story fascinating.

The sky over London.
 Nesser invents an author who is a bit like himself, an author who is beginning to believe that his creation exists in reality, that the people he has invented are real people. He convinces himself this is true. It takes a while to understand which parts of the novel are "real" (relatively speaking) and which ones are the novel (within the novel). And when that is clear, Nesser pokes another hole in his fiction/reality construct and pushes his author into another layer of fiction, under a new layer of (fictional) reality. It´s like a play with mirror images in mirror images.

It reminded me of a funny film I saw, "Stranger than fiction" where Emma Thompson plays a depressed writer trying to find a good way to kill her main character. He finds out what she is doing and tries to stop her. What is real? What is not? I think most serious readers would find this interesting.

I also can´t help thinking what another writer than Nesser could have done with this idea. I know it´s unfair to compare every novelist to Tunström, Coetzee or Kundera, but I can´t help myself. There is something about the way Nesser writes that makes me feel that he is too much in a hurry, that he does not take the time to really, really write well. Not as well as he should, with his experience, anyway. But perhaps it´s just a matter of taste. Bottom line: I heartily recommend it.

No comments:

Post a Comment