The author Denise Mina talks about stories in an interview in The Guardian Review (Saturday 27 April 2019); asked about the inspiration for her podcasting plot line (writes Libby Brooks) she segues into Western society’s addiction to certain narrative shapes:
They are so comforting, but it fundamentally impacts the way we receive information. So the anti-vaxxers have a much cleaner story than vaxxers. Everything doesn’t fit into a story, some things are just information.
This issue — about people responding more favourably to a narrative that follows a simple plot than random bits of information that make the picture more messy — is one that you may’ve noticed I come back to again and again.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy well-plotted narratives as much as the next person. Beginning, middle, end — a clear story arc — good pacing — a sense the author is in control… What’s not to like? Sometimes there’s a twist at the end: a ‘never-ending’ tale when the narrator only stops once the audience realises the tale keeps repeating from the beginning; or a cliffhanger, Scheherazade-style, where we’re left wanting more. But most of us like a successful resolution to our stories, with a stock formula, the closing of a book or applause marking a clear fermata.
But apart from birth, followed by the passing of time and then death, most life doesn’t have a neatness about it. We never hear all that’s relevant to big issues in current affairs — a situation exacerbated by the blatant political bias of so much of our news media — so it’s rarely possible to reach a balanced judgement of life-and-death matters, let alone more minor issues.
So this is where narrative comes in. Right wing, left wing, to vaccinate or not, human agency in climate change, flat earth, aliens and a myriad other debates: our desire for certainty requires definite answers and pat conclusions. Nuance or rational argument is abruptly shown the door; villains, real or imagined, are identified, saviours and heroes extolled.
The truth is that the future is shrouded in mist. We can make out shapes in the fog, guess where the path is going, but there is no well-delineated final destination, let alone a ‘happy ever after’, to be discerned. The only certainty seems to be entropy.
Narrative turns out to be all that sustains us.
That’s my spot of cri-de-coeur existentialism for the week! I had hoped to post a review of Rotherweird by now, but I’ve not been rushing through it, preferring to savour it. It’s a tricksy but stimulating narrative, yet though I’ve spotted many of the intellectual clues littered around I’m no nearer to guessing the conclusion, you’ll be relieved to know.