Good and bad, light and dark, mind and matter, yin and yang, male and female, them and us, Celtic and Rangers — who doesn’t like a telling binary opposition? But given the supposed value placed on diversity in our current culture, it’s noteworthy that talk about race also hinges on binary opposition now.
Anyone who admires Patricia Highsmith’s fiction will forgive her this fondness for the ‘almost incredible’ and will find these coincidences perfectly believable in the settings and atmospheres she conjures. Coincidences are stitched into the fabric of life and we have all experienced them, though perhaps not as frequently and significantly as the inhabitants of fictional worlds.
Anybody interested in the history of space exploration will be familiar with the name of Wernher Von Braun and with the main points of his biography. They will know that Von Braun was a German aristocrat, SS officer, and scientist, who led the Nazi’s rocket development programme.
Somewhere along the byways of my adolescent reading I picked up the notion that the Library of Alexandria, the greatest library of antiquity™, was burnt to the ground one day in far-off times, thereby wiping out a vast trove of ancient learning and literature.
A couple of novels I read recently got me thinking about character descriptions. From my own reading, admittedly a small sample size, I have the impression that fiction writers are making their character descriptions much more frugal than used to be the case.
In his history of France in the 1930s, The Hollow Years, Eugen Weber mentions, almost in passing, ‘Of two thousand French films shot between 1930 and 1950 only a quarter survive, and most of those that we still view are more or less glum.’
The novella has never been a hugely popular form. It’s often seen as a kind of in-between fiction, neither long enough to allow for satisfying character development and plotting, not brief enough to provide the concentrated impact of the best short stories. But it’s a form that I’ve always enjoyed and at its best it can combine something of the complexity of the novel with the economy of the short story