the very first time


The first novel is a curious thing. (I've never written one myself, sorry, so I am speaking here only as a curious reader.)

If I was an editor handed a first novel, would I edit out the rawness? The parts that appear over-written but, given the context and the rawness of emotion, those dramatically paused sentences that actually seem wrong in a right way? Would I suggest that the story arc be less obvious, less naive? Instead, suggest that it assumes a more deceptively meandering form so that when the pages towards the end literally thin out, the reader would not be so conscious that the story is reaching a point of conflict that will, no doubt, be resolved?

Oh lucky thing I'm also not an editor!

Still, it is equally hard to be a curious reader nowadays.

The reviews give out the whole deal. The hype that surrounds each book reaches you through the newspapers/blogs, word of mouth, bookcovers that try too hard, and fancy displays in bookstores - that now ubiquitous top 10 shelf. But I was curious when I picked up Khaled Hosseini's first novel, The Kite Runner, mostly because it was about Afghanistan, and I know next to nothing about that country.

And like any good read, while a large part of the novel is set in and the characters are all from Afghanistan, its specific political turmoil is enhanced, not reduced, by the common stories of love, jealousy, shame and absolution. For me, where The Kite Runner rises above the pitfalls of a first novel is most clearly seen in its powerful yet sensitive telling of shame. The shame of betrayal. The shame of cowardice. The shame of un-love. This is no niggly guilty feeling, but the overwhelming, stricken fear that you are not who you appear to be, and that one day, what or who you truly are cannot be hidden, not even from your dream life.

*If you prefer to read this in a group and talk about it with random folks and reading clubs, The Kite Runner is also a recommended book for the Read Singapore season.


Anonymous said…
I think this was the book that Yawning Bread mentioned seen read by a bus passenger. In one of his articles.
Anonymous said…
Finding a sound and reliable editor seems to be critical to some novelists' success at getting the work published, never mind bought and read. This may seem quite obvious but I never knew until I read Rick Gekowski's _Tolkien's Gown & Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books_ that there were twelve awful pages about a nuclear disaster at the start of _Lord of the Flies_ and William Golding had to be persuaded several times to delete them, so off-putting was the account. That Jack Kerouac promptly rewrote _On the Road_ after he finished the first draft and then revised it over 6 years, during which he wrote 12 other books. It was still unpublishable after all that. It was a friend called Malcolm Cowley who managed to persuade Kerouac to do some serious pruning ("All the changes I suggested were big ones, mostly omissions."). The beast was only tame enough to see print after that.
ampulets said…
gecko - didn't read yawning bread's account, so not sure what was the context. but it's a pretty easy and enjoyable read, made me cry at parts!

wheyface - yah, i rememmber having a discussion with some folks about the publishing industry here...among the MANY problems why this industry won't take off in singapore, the lack of "sound and reliable" editors (heck, the lack of editors. period.) was one key reason. So much crap gets published, giving singapore writing a bad name. but when we retire, i'm still game to start a publishing business. heh. but we'll still need to pay someone to write "the business plan" ;>
wheyface said…
Shouldn't our polytechnics and universities run courses on editing? But that's another train. Business plan, the words are enough to make me yawn.
ampulets said…
Hey, YOU go tell our universities/university! Before you get off that train...

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