Sunday, 20 January 2013

Who controls the story?

I've been not particularly well this last week and reading Joseph Anton in bed, it's a long book - 600 pages, which on a Kindle can seem endless, you don't get the same sense of progress you get with a paper book - but compelling even though Salman can be a bit up himself. Whatever you think of the man, he can write, and this book is like a banquet of Michelin food and junk food (the bitchiness, the gossip), on which you gorge and have indigestion afterwards and need to take a break. It is also repetitive, necessarily so, and lots and lots of detail. 

I feel linked with Salman's books as I read Midnight's Children when I was very ill in mid-eighties. I had to stop and start, stop and start, but persevered. Reading this novel was my window on real life when my own life was suffocating and claustrophobic, bedridden as I was with ME. Then five, six years later when all the hullaballoo started I was in London trying to find part-time work, heading (unknowingly) for a catastrophic relapse and the news on TV was of books being burned and I recall watching with my flatmates and feeling baffled, and so very ill (for neuroimmune reasons). Fast forward another six years, and I saw him speak in Edinburgh, I think the Traverse Theatre, and we had to go through airport security (as usual, I had to sit while others kept my place) and  afterwards we left with signed copies of The Moor's Last Sigh (which I still have not read, but I will). Salman says in his memoir that when he was writing TMLS he was annoyed he could not travel to India to do the research and was worried about 'authenticity', but many writers have to imagine the places they are writing about (and he already had much experience of India). I would love, for example, to have the option to go back to Pakistan, I have family there, but I can't risk the vaccinations, or not having the vaccinations, and so I have to rely on memory (of a 6-week trip as a child) and my heart. (Salman's exiled Somalian writer friend Nuruddin Farah advised him to write from what he'd kept in his heart.)

I am struck (not for the first time) by this concept of 'who owns the story', who is in control of the narrative, and while I am trying not to write about ME as I am so fucking bored with it, this is what happened with my illness, the narrative was stolen and distorted by a clique of medics/health editors, and the story has been spun and spun like a spider's web. Thankfully, science is the opposite of these 'purveyors of untruth' and is making headway in spite of it all. This from Open Medicine Institute is encouraging.

And, this is good, an essay on why writers should use Twitter. I used to hate Twitter, thought it was bollocks - and there is a lot of bollocks on there, like the internet in general - but it is also a lovely thing, for many reasons, not least  because it takes hardly any energy. I recently came across this short interview with Dr John Chia via Twitter, he researches treatments for ME triggered by enterovirus (as mine was). And unlike the purveyors of untruth he is very interested in the  original virus that has actually caused ME.

And if anyone is interested, here is Zoe Heller's review of  Joseph Anton, shortlisted for hatchet job of the year. I think she is a little hard on him. And a more sympathetic review here from writer Laila Lalami.


Digitalesse said...

Interesting concept on who can 'own' or 'control' a story—in the widest definition of what a story can be. Even one's own identity, either as an individual or a PWME, can be 'controlled' by other people although I have always striven to maintain my own 'story' or my 'own' identity.

This can be applied to so many issues, and I find it quite sinister when you think of how the government and the news media have this strange dysfunctional symbiosis. Perhaps I'm rambling... my ME brain isn't quite on the case right now, I'm afraid.

Mim said...

As we write we take control of the story--power of a sort. That power, that authority, remains in the voice of the narrator, in the book. I like that authority but realize that later I might tell the story in a different way.

I'm thinking literature, not the medical tribe: there have been so many re-telling of old tales. Let that continue!

And what about other people's photographs/portraits of us?

Thoughtful you, Nasim . . .