_The Thief_ Part 2 (M&H) SPOILERS!

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Mon Mar 11 14:58:10 EST 2002


>
>What I have been going on about has very little to do with interpretation
>and everything to do with writerly technique.  When I say Turner cheated,
>I'm talking about the deliberate choices she as a writer HAD to make in
>order for her story to come out the way it did.  Writers have to make
>choices about those things: first person vs. third person, omniscient vs.
>limited.  More description or more dialogue.  Things like that.  And they
>can make those choices because they have a good sense of what that choice is
>going to convey to the "experienced" reader; that is, they know that readers
>have certain assumptions about POV that THEY'VE derived from reading a great
>number of books.  The writer depends on these assumptions in constructing
>the story.  Without them, there's a greater chance that a potential reader
>will simply be turned off because the book doesn't match the (generally
>subconscious) assumptions she brings to the book.
>
>I *never* make guesses about what a writer intended a book to mean.  (Almost
>never.)  I figure unless I ask that writer myself, I don't have any business
>saying that So-and-so wrote this book to mean a particular thing.  Plus, it
>frees me to make wild guesses myself.  :)  But as a would-be writer, I *do*
>make guesses about why an author *constructed* a book in a particular way.
>If I don't do this, there's no way I can learn to improve my own writing.
>If I read a book that I really admire, I practically *have* to be able to
>deconstruct it (not in the postmodern sense) so that I can figure out how to
>achieve the same effect myself.  I have to know what physical aspect of the
>text--the word choice, the POV choice, the dialogue, whatever--contributed
>to this effect, and how much of it stems from the experience I bring to the
>text.  Is it enough just to write in first person, or do I also have to
>depend on the reader being familiar with texts A, B, and C?  And then I have
>to test it on other people and see if I'm right, assuming that I had enough
>skill to reproduce it, which unfortunately doesn't happen as often as I'd
>like.
>
>So when I talk about "cheating" in this context--and I do recognize that's a
>strongly connotative word--it doesn't mean that I got to the end of the book
>and said, "Hey, that was totally unfair!  I should have been able to figure
>that out!"  It just means that I recognize what techniques she used to
>conceal the plot, for the express purpose of getting that "aha!" ending, and
>based on my experience I didn't think they were totally kosher.  Where
>interpretation comes into it is that my reading of the book places more
>emphasis on the personal relationships--what the magus is really like, who
>Sophos is going to become thanks to this journey, why Ambiades would turn
>out to be a traitor--than on the surprise ending.  If all it were was that
>surprise, it wouldn't be worth reading more than twice at most.  So it
>seemed a little strange that Turner put so much effort into deceiving the
>reader, because I could see a version in which the reader *does* know what's
>going on, and that version seemed pretty good to me too.  There's another
>open question for everyone: what do you see as the most important aspect of
>the book?  Gen's identity, the theft of the Gift, the political and social
>landscape, the personal relationships, or something else entirely?


Ok, to respond to the three paragraphs together:  my feeling is that 
Turner didn't cheat, although Gen clearly did.  But rather than that 
cheating being a case of the author's doing something not kosher (or 
certainly, rather than its involving a "cheap parlor trick"), this is 
an essential and central part of the characterisation in the book. 
This is exactly who Gen IS, as well as what he does.  Although we 
learn that he had a very unselfish motivation for going out to steal 
H's Gift, aren't you just completely convinced that he also did it in 
part for the sheer fun of it?  And part of the fun was in the 
baffling of as many people as he could!  He mentions his 
disappointment at the Magus's NOT being surprised by the revelation 
of his identity (partly compensated for by Sophos being gob-smacked), 
and his delight in the fact that the Magus is completely surprised by 
Gen's having the stone.  So combined with the ending suggestion that 
the story would be written down, I think it can be read as his 
written narrative, written the way it was for the sheer pleasure of 
surprising the reader.  And I think it's perfectly fitting to feel 
that amused and exasperated affection for Gen that Eddis seems to 
feel throughout.

That's not quite all, however.  Here I may be going out into the 
ether irretrievably, but *for me*, I think there may be another layer 
to this.  Gen's trickery is an essential part of his 
characterisation, but I think it could also be read as pointing 
beyond him to the world of the book.  Gen is not just an attractive 
rogue - a liar and a thief but you gotta love him - he has a role as 
the Queen's Thief in his society.  And readers need to accept this 
role to some extent, as part of accepting the world.  I think it's 
one of the many strengths of the writing that Turner manages to get 
this unique role accepted - well, I can't say universally, but has 
anyone heard anybody say that he or she didn't like _The Thief_ 
because the main character steals things and lies?  (This has just 
reminded me of Trickster tales - like the Coyote ones in Mexican 
mythology - anyone with me on this?)


>  >Obviously, if at the end of the day a reader feels cheated, that's
>>how he or she feels.  But I do still have a bit of a problem with a
>>categorical statement that it IS cheating.
>
>I didn't say I felt cheated.  I didn't.  I felt that Turner used techniques
>in a way that deliberately led the reader to the wrong conclusions, for the
>sake of a surprise ending rather than as the natural requirement of the
>story.  That's different from feeling personally cheated.  That's one
>(unpublished, unskilled) writer saying "You really were close to the line on
>that one."  Turner took a real chance and succeeded, counting success by
>sales and awards.  If she weren't as good as she is, it wouldn't have
>worked.

Ok, I see better now what you're saying on this one.  My protest 
against your stating that Turner cheated (as opposed to saying that 
in your opinion she cheated) was based on the fact that it seemed to 
imply some set of technical rules about what is and is not allowed 
for a first person narrative.  I was protesting that as there isn't 
any such set of rules (afaik anyway!), "cheating" will almost always 
be a matter of perception or interpretation.  And thwarting of 
readers' expectations is not the same thing as cheating.

>
>>On the other hand - I agree totally with all the good things you have
>>to say about it. :)
>
>Of course you do.  We don't disagree about EVERYTHING, you know. :)  But I
>do know that you provoke the most long-winded responses from me.


:)  Well, I know my excuse - just coming off an essay - close 
analysis of a chapter in _Northanger Abbey_, and the function of the 
chapter with respect to the rest of the book, in no more than 1000 
words.  It was crippling!  And I just know that my tutor would have 
taken as much delight in reading 5000 words or so of my insights as I 
could have taken in presenting them. :)

So unlimited mileage on narrative voice in P&P and _The Thief_?  My 
Mothering Sunday gift to myself!  Except the rest of the day (my 
father and grandfather's anniversaries) got dreadfully in the way.



Hallie.




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