Breaking the Rules : Joan London
I’ve recently been reading novels by the wonderful Australian writer, Joan London. ‘The Golden Age’ and ‘Gilgamesh’. Both are wonderfully written, award-winning books, yet they seem to break many of the ‘rules’ we aspiring writers are taught in the many popular courses in the craft of writing.
Professor Elizabeth Webby writes:
‘Unlike much contemporary Australian fiction, Joan London’s novel ‘Gilgamesh’ is not narrated in the first person or from the perspective of one character. This makes the author’s task more complicated but results in a much richer reading experience since we are allowed into each character’s inner life, making them all vividly present.’
Yet London ignores many popular precepts, and with powerful results. For example, in her novel ‘Gilgamesh’, about an innocent country girl who goes on quest to find the father of her child, the Point of View (POV in writer-speak) often changes from one character to the next even on the same page. Yet I found her writing compelling and beautiful. Here, for instance, is a short excerpt from ‘Gilgamesh’:
‘They had met in Iraq, where Leopold was working on an archaeological dig not far from Baghdad, on the Euphrates. Aram was working on the expedition as a driver. He was Armenian, born in Turkey, where his parents had died when he was very young.’
Thus London introduces two of her main characters. But is this ‘showing’ or ‘telling’? Telling’ is a travesty of good writing practice, according to the popular writing gurus. Yet here, London is clearly ‘telling’, as she does throughout the novel, and it works!
Do these examples give the lie to those well-worn precepts ‘Show don’t Tell’ and ‘Stick to one main Point of View’? Or am I just playing Devil’s Advocate, rebelling against the constraints of ‘good writing’?