Over the weekend I saw ATONEMENT at the movies, and immediately went out afterwards and bought Ian McEwan's novel. The film is evocative, questing, and gorgeous to look at. An added bonus, it concerns the art of writing, and how words can shape lives. Anthony Lane's movie review in THE NEW YORKER seemed to imply that this aspect of the plot is even stronger in the novel, which further heightened my interest. So far, 100 pages in, Lane was right: This is a fiction about how fictions shape reality.
It's also a very interior novel. Page after page features one character alone, musing about events and perceptions and feelings. The word count devoted to characters' solitary musings far outnumbers the word count of characters interacting. We in SF seldom do this, or at least not for longer than a scene or two. Nor does mainstream commercial fiction. In fact, this way of writing might almost be said to be a hallmark of literary fiction.
I like it. I like knowing so much about the characters' interior lives, even at the expense of pace (ATONEMENT is glacially slow) and of outer drama. I'd like to try writing this way in the story I'm working on now. But would it work in SF? Would readers respond well to it? I don't know, although I suspect not. But I'm still thinking about this.
Meanwhile, my sister sent me a T-shirt for my birthday, with another use of words, the overt literary threat. The shirt says: CAREFUL, OR I'LL PUT YOU IN MY NOVEL.
You've been warned.