This is all fiction

The Burden Of Story

I’ve just reached a wonderful part in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Desertion where the main plot appears to be abandoned and the author (or is it someone who’ll turn out to be a narrator?) reflects on what happens next in the story. He can’t fully explain the events, he says, but he knows they took place, implausible though they may seem. This instantly took me back to something I recently tried (and probably failed) to explain to a friend when we were talking about writing.

Plot is overrated — I think that was the main point I wanted to get across. That’s not to say it’s unimportant. Of course it’s important. It would be silly to suggest otherwise. But I think a truly great book (and a play or a film too, for that matter) reaches for deeper truths, rather than obsessing over whether or not a plot is believable. In fact, I think I’d go so far as to say that the books, plays and movies that make the most lasting, the most profound impact on us are those that have done so not because of their stories but because of their ability to transcend the weighty mechanics of cause and effect.

Hamlet. The Buried Giant. Three Colours Red. Their plots are merely portals through which we can glimpse the soul of another person, with all its inconsistencies, contradictions and implausibilities. Ultimately, plot is less important than truth, and I’d say it must always give way to the latter.

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