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  • Simon Howard

WHAT’S THE POINT OF FICTION?

Updated: Mar 14, 2020

A roomful of writers and readers. And the question’s hurtling towards Tom. There’s no escape. Everyone’s got to answer, and it’s already halfway around the long table: Tom’s next. What’s the point of fiction? He knows it’s no good saying ‘If you need to ask the question, you’ll never understand the answer.’ But he’d like to.

Novelists have spoken, readers have spoken. A neurologist has spoken. George Eliot has been quoted. (Very ably, thinks Tom, though in his panic he’s forgotten the quote already.) Tom doesn’t want to speak about his current screenplay (concerning shell-shocked Nazis in an SS mental hospital) and he certainly doesn’t want to mention his latest semi-autobiographical novel about a man stranded on a remote island in the sun, surrounded by sharks and manta rays. He considers quoting a neighbour who’d insisted on reading a draft of it. When he asked her what she thought of the characterisation, she said: ‘Oh, I find all that sort of thing rather irritating – I just want to know what’s going to happen next.’ Tom finds this sort of thing extremely irritating and doesn’t think he’s the right sort of author for her - or quite a lot of readers, probably. After all, he’s writing from the soul, don’t forget – not ambition.

Then, of course, he becomes paranoid and convinced that he’s not the right sort of writer for any of the readers and writers in this room. However, he’s very fond of the event organisers (‘forty-two books between us, and not a single award…’) and feels he must play the game, although he’s been praying for either the fire alarm to go off or his mobile phone to ring. Countdown. There’s no avoiding it…

‘I think writing and reading have one great thing in common,’ he says boldly. ‘Without them, we’d never get out of the left brain, which would make life a very dull affair.’

‘Oh, how interesting,’ says the woman on his left, who just happens to be a left brain, right brain expert.

Well, that’s a bit of luck, thinks Tom, sitting back in his chair and hoping that there won’t be any supplementary questions.

‘I happen to be a neurologist,’ says the neurologist, ‘and I think that’s a load of rubbish.’

Obvious left brain dominance there, thinks Tom. And irritating.

‘It’s quite clear that people who don’t know anything about how the brain works have latched onto the idea that the left brain does one thing and the right brain another, when the truth is that one has to see the brain as a whole. It can only function as a whole.’

Very left brain dominant.

‘Hear hear,’ says an old cove in a suit who obviously knows less about the brain than Tom does.

‘Or, as one of my readers put it,’ says Tom, refusing to be cowed. ‘”Keep reading fiction. There’s fuck all in real life.”’

A groan sounds on the other side of the table. It’s coming from Tom’s brother Robert, whose contribution to the discussion What’s the point of fiction? was, ‘It affords one a marvellous opportunity to tell the fantastic story of one’s successes to an admiring public in a rather engaging and, one hopes, poetic way.’

‘Hear hear,’ said the old cove in a suit.

And because writers are last word freaks, Tom thinks: It’s not about the brain anyway – it’s about the mind.


*****




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