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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.