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Thursday, 27 August 2009

Stranger than Fiction


Author - Jim Murdoch : Published - fvbooks : pp180

If you enjoyed the author's previous book Living with the Truth - as I did _ you will enjoy this one. I enjoyed this one even more than the previous one. As with that one, Jonathan Payne is the chief protagonist. Living with the Truth was the story of his meeting with the personification of truth. As always with such stories you have to be able to accept the conceit on order to relax and enjoy both the story and the writing.

In many way Stranger than Fiction is a re-run of that first book, for it is again the story of Jonathan Payne's encounters with the figure of Truth. Only this time the story is not confined to humble Earth. Oh dear me, no: this time we have not so much a broader canvas as an endless wall available for the author to expand his grand designs. We have macro-universes - called macro-verses - for example. Our gallant protagonist and Truth may now range far and wide. But the conceit becomes more involved than that: before too long we learn that everywhere he goes and everyone he meets Jonathan Payne has generated himself from his own memory. For example, he remembers an early 70's pub, so that is what they find themselves sitting in when Truth takes him for a drink. It is a conceit that allows Jonathan to interact with people from his past. It allows him, to take another example, to face up to the memory of his mother and his own childish fantasies and to the consequent guilt feelings. You ask a child, he is told, why they did something, I don't know, wet themselves, stole a penny, scribbled on the new wallpaper and they answer if they dare, "Because," because that is all the truth there is. You want to know "Why?" but I don't have the answers you're looking for. Because they never existed. This is your chance to examine the other routes in your life to see if there are any better choices just waiting to be made.

But the conceit does more even than that, for it has yet more to offer both the author and the reader. It allows Murdoch to examine a variety of issues and to put forward various viewpoints. It must be said - and this is perhaps the one down side and my one slight disappointment - that it is not a debate between equals. Truth has all the big guns and the heavy armaments. Jonathan can only muse, something he does quite a lot - and even then his musings are often cut short! I was actually longing for him to win just one argument and so prove for all time that Truth could be false - Oh, all right: "wrong", if you must! - But that, I realise, was expecting too much. Maybe it would have sent the whole macro-verse spinning off course. I don't know; it is likely that only the author could say for sure. That was just one small me carping a bit - the me that instinctively feels it must champion the underdog or Justice will depart from this small universe of ours for ever.

So what are the issues that the author manages to raise? Well, Truth is one, of course. What it is and what it isn't. Xenophobia another. Then there is Reality. As in: Your mother was only as real as you remembered her to be. Belief in God and Relationships both get an airing. Not exactly trivial stuff, this, you will notice.

I am not - as some of you will know - a great film buff, although there was a time when I might have claimed to be one. However, I did very much appreciate the way the author took the presented opportunity to play around with films. This is obviously something that he very much enjoyed doing, and consequently it was enjoyable for this reader, who invariably derives great pleasure from the enthusiasm of a speaker or a writer for his/her subject.

If I was to be asked to pick my favourite scene or passage from this book I think I would choose one from near the end in which Jonathan is taken to a convention of Jonathan Paynes. Here he meets all those other selves from all those other times and universes across the macro-verse. There is a Father Jonathan, a prophet Jonathan, a Jonathan Payne from Earth 334, an android Jonathan Payne, even twin Jonathan Paynes and a Lady Joanna Payne. I found this extremely humerous, but it was humour with a point. And the point? Well, perhaps each reader will come to it differently, but what I did find was that much in this book could be taken in any of a number of ways. It was possible at times to see it as metaphor, parable, maybe allegory. No doubt you could read nothing into it and just enjoy what would then be a rather far-fetched story.

But having finished the book and reflected a bit on the author's two books, I found myself playing with the idea of these being the first in a Jonathan Payne series, a time travel series with a difference. We could have Jonathan visiting his distant ancestors, for example. Okay, I've gone beyond the remit of a reviewer, but I do believe it not impossible to imagine a cult following somewhere down the road one day.

38 comments:

Rachel Fenton said...

Really enjoyed your review - very involved - and I liked that it was rather concise. A very good last post to end the day on...I shall go to bed musing over the truth!

Jim Murdoch said...

Lovely review, Dave. Thank you.

You'll be pleased to hear that Aggie and Shuggie are back too.

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

I'm often the person who reads nothing into a story, so this sort of deep thinking might deter me (sorry Jim!). But I'm glad you enjoyed it and you certainly wrote a great review.

Tabor said...

I guess I would be wondering if there is only one truth for the memory of any situation. Can there be more than one truth?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Truth - great subject there Dave.
It doesn't sound my kind of book really but I must say your review of it is very impressive indeed.

willow said...

I love the notion of visiting all our other selves through history. Great review. And speaking of, thanks for enjoying my little piece today. If you like it, I know I'm on a good track.

Jim Murdoch said...

@ Rachel: Truth is something I've mused about for years. I thought writing these two books might get it out of my system but 'fraid not.

@ Derrick: No apology necessary and this story works perfectly well without looking for hidden layers. As my wife said earlier today (quoting Freud): "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

@ Tabor: Actually we do get two Truths in the book (sort of) but for the sake of simplicity – and because he's a sentient being in the book – I keep it simple. With the possibility of parallel universes, which the book touches on, of course all variations on a theme are possible.

@ The Weaver of Grass: That's the problem with reviews, how does one decide, given only a limited amount of information, whether a book will work for them or not. The hard thing is not spoiling it for the reader by giving away too much but by doing so you're also shielding them from the good stuff. What I can say is that Stranger than Fiction was never really meant to be a standalone novel. You would get so much more out of it by reading Living with the Truth first. You can read about it here and there are plenty of links to online reviews.

@ Willow: So far that is probably most people's favourite scene in the book and, like most things I do to Jonathan, it's certainly not a pleasant experience. Basically Jonathan isn't a very nice guy – his weaknesses are far more obvious than his strengths – so it's only reasonable (to me at least and I'm the author so my rules apply) that his alternate selves would be simply variations on a theme. The fun bit in that scene was writing myself into the book: Jonathan getting to meet his 'Dr. Frankenstein'.

lakeviewer said...

I'm intrigued by your review. If Truth has the upper-hand, it must appear infallible. How can a modern person accept that?

Jim Murdoch said...

@ Lakeviewer: Bear in mind this is essentially a fantasy novel. If you've read my blog then you'll know that I don't have much time for truth as a concept. In the book though I make up the rules and the problem there is what does a modern man do when confronted with absolute truth? It's no different to those films where Santa Claus appears. You have to be willing to suspend disbelief for the duration of the novel and say: "Yes, I know it couldn't happen but what if it did happen?" As Dave says, you can read the whole thing as an allegory if you want. I could live with that.

If you want to get a feel for the relationship you can read an excerpt from Living with the Truth here where Jonathan first meets Truth.

Nancy said...

Hmm, I'm intriqued. Great review. Thanks.

jinksy said...

Interesting. But I would agree with you, truth is relative, rather than absolute.

Jim Murdoch said...

@ Nancy: Since Dave's warmed you up why don't you have a look at this post where I talk about the many influences for the book?

@ Jinksy: Of course truth is but even cynical old sods like me would like to believe that there are answers out there that don't come laden with their own sets of questions. In the books Jonathan gets plenty of answers but the thing is he's never satisfied by any of them. I'm not sure that any of us really wants to know for sure. We like a bit of doubt in there. People have been debating the existence of extra-terrestrials for years. Truth just tells Jonathan flatly that they exist and when he balks at the idea calls him a xenophobe and moves onto the next topic. If anything the books offer evidence that ignorance truly is bliss and the grass is not greener on the other side.

Tara said...

Great review. Thanks for the thoughts.

Jim Murdoch said...

@ Tara: Yes, Dave did a good job. If you're interested there was another review posted a couple of days ago at Library Thing, a 5 star one no less.

John Hayes said...

I'm not familiar with this work, but this is an excellent review that makes the work seem quite compelling. Will try to look into these work. Thanks!

gleaner said...

Very enjoyable review Dave. It reminds me a little of Hesse's Steppenwolf - the myriad of different persons and possibilities within one person.

Ronda Laveen said...

Thanks, Dave. This is a book, or series of books, that I would enjoy. A quantum view of the Macro-verses.

But I do side with you about Truth being wrong for a change. Surely, somewhere in that great big Macro-verse there is a dimension where Truth could be wrong.

Jim Murdoch said...

@ John Hayes: Join a long queue of people who've never heard of me. One down, about 6.5 billion people to go.

@ Gleaner: I'm afraid I've never read Steppenwolf but you've piqued my interest. I've added it to my Amazon wish list – Xmas will be on us soon enough.

@Rhonda: Truth could never be wrong. He doesn't have free will. He simply reports things as they are. That said, he can be shaken or distracted. At the end of the first novel he lets his coffee go cold, a small thing but enough to indicate how much the events of the previous two days have affected him. His twin is Destiny. He can never be right. He talks in odds all the time. He never knows what's going to happen until it does only he never knows because as soon as it's happened he forgets and Truth takes over. You can learn a bit more of where I came up with the idea of the Dunameon here.

Adrian LaRoque said...

With time I would like to read it!

Jim Murdoch said...

@ Adrian: And in time I'd love to find out what you thought about it. Bear in mind that the cheapest way to buy the books are via the FV Books website rather than Amazon.

Carl said...

Think I'll pick up both books and take me on vacation. Reminds me a little of the Incarnations of Imortality series by Piers Anthony I read as a kid. At least along some of the situations these can be presented in story telling.

Jim Murdoch said...

That's great to hear, Carl. Here's a link to the special offer page on the FV Books site. I've never read any Piers Anthony I'm afraid. Too many authors, too little time.

Madame DeFarge said...

I always like the way you look at things, insofar as it provokes me to think along lines I maybe never thought about. Good interesting review and I shall seek this out.

Harlequin said...

thanks for this considered review.... it sets me up well for the parry and thrust between Truth(s?) and muse... a nice contra-pose.

Karen said...

Truth, reality, perception - concepts that have long intrigued. Thanks for the review. This is one author I want to read.

Jim Murdoch said...

@ Madame DeFarge, Harlequin, Karen – I'm glad you liked Dave's review of Stranger than Fiction. In addition to all the links I've included in previous comments if you click here you can read my post where I talk about the original novel and what brought me to write it. You'll also get to see the full wraparound cover.

Rose Marie Raccioppi said...

"You ask a child, he is told, why they did something, I don't know, wet themselves, stole a penny, scribbled on the new wallpaper and they answer if they dare, "Because," because that is all the truth there is. You want to know "Why?" but I don't have the answers you're looking for. Because they never existed. This is your chance to examine the other routes in your life to see if there are any better choices just waiting to be made."

This particular passage says it all for me. "Because," the most significant explanation - my need to "BE" is the "CAUSE." Not always in words that discern meaning, but in deeds spontaneous and searching.

As a Holistic Educational Therapist in private practice for 26 years, the explanation "because" is the starting point ...

Great post - many seeds of thought.

Jim Murdoch said...

@ Rose Marie Raccioppi: That is so clever. I wish I'd heard that at the time. I would have worked that into the book.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Sounds most interesting. Thanks for the review and for bringing this book to my attention.

Dave King said...

Jim et all
I'm glad you liked the review, but I have to say that I think the debate it has provoked outstrips it. I have found it absolutely fascinating. I'm still not convinced about truth always being correct, though. How can he/she/it report infallibly about things as they are when science (if it is a purveyor of truth)tells us that things are not always as they are? I think Tabor's remark about there being more than one truth might warrant further thought.
You can read a poet's take on things as they are in Wallace Stevens's Man with the Blue Guitar Here

Ben said...

Very intense, very cerebral. The world needs more. Thanks for some good writing.

Ben
http://ben-better-left-unsaid.blogspot.com/

Dave King said...

Ben
Welcome to my blog and my thanks for stopping by to comment.

ladytruth said...

I don't generally read a lot of English novels but I might just take a look at this one. I have something for you over at my blog ;)

Conda V. Douglas said...

It always fascinates me how some characters take on a life that expands far, far past what the writer ever intended. This is apparently what has happened with Jim's novels.

Intriguing and interesting review, Dave.

readingsully2 said...

Sounds interesting,

Cloudia said...

Your thoughtful review is itself worthy reading!

aloha

Comfort Spiral

Jim Murdoch said...

@ Ladytruth: Well, I'd be honoured if you did. I'm afraid my Truth doesn't have a female counterpart.

@ Conda: But that's the whole point of reading. People bring themselves to a book and whole worlds of experiences. I expect that's why some people can love one book whilst others loathe it.

@ Readingsully2: Glad you think so.

@ Cloudia: I have to agree with you there, especially considering the amount of comments generated.

GYPSYWOMAN said...

well, what have we here! and me - at a loss for words! great great post! great!