Novel as a Creative Vehicle and Channel of Communication

  • Added:
    Sep 28, 2012
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Jane Smiley is a very prolific, versatile and talented writer who has published twelve books and has had fourteen ideas. I am almost sure that these two ideas will turn into books eventually. She played with different forms (mystery, comedy, tragedy, historical fiction, epic).  Each novel was an experiment for her and she loves happy endings. However, the terrorist attack in the World Trade Center on September 11th made Jane Smiley falter in her so far tireless impulse to write and she became determined to approach novels from different angle.  She read one hundred of them (from classics to contemporary novels). The author thought that she had outlived the natural life span of her novel-writing (which is approximately twenty years for a novelist). In her opinion, her problem with writing was not outside herself. She thought it was her own professional history. The writer had experienced every form of literature creation. Smiley emphasizes that even Charles Dickens who loved to write and wrote with ease and conviction was tired in the end.

  In her unique, honest and extravagant style, the author writes a book about books called Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, which is also a kind of autobiography. We see her thinking about her new novel while teaching, changing diapers or cooking dinner for her family. She generously shares the secrets of novel-writing with us and claims that readers like focus and intensity.  She writes:”If to live is to progress, if you are lucky, from foolishness to wisdom, then to write novels is to broadcast the various stages of your foolishness.”

In the first two chapters, Jane describes her life, fully lived, taking care of her children, her teaching and professional responsibilities. However, she has always found time to write a new novel. And she started a novel by thinking that she had discovered important truths which she wanted to share with her readers. For instance, while she was writing a murder mystery novel Duplicate Keys, she was positive that every novel is, in fact, some sort of mystery. When she was writing The Greenlanders, she was sure that all novels were historical novels, describing some period, recent or distant. The author wanted to know how the world worked and she was non-religious. However, while she was writing Horse Heaven, she started to believe in God.  Jane Smiley accepted a distinct picture of reality which was a mixture of Christianity and Eastern religions. It took her about three years to become comfortable with this new way of thinking. But her reward was enormous. She turned into a calm, tolerant person who was less afraid and less greedy. The author`s theory of creativity is quite dim. She imagines writing as a beautiful breath of spirit, pervasive and unintentional work, “as natural as life itself.”In her opinion, every writer has his/her unique way of dealing with creativity. Nevertheless, even the greatest writers may become bored, tired and fearful of their decreasing creativity.

The writer defines a novel as an experience within the boundaries of writing, prose, length, narrative and protagonist. Every novel must have these five elements. Other attributes of a novel grow out of the unshakable relationships among these five elements. Jane Smiley compares prose and poetry. She claims that a poem has to be memorized by heart, word for word or” it loses its identity.” The same is not true for prose.  Written images and ideas do not have to be remembered.  Faint ideas and misty pictures in novels are not memorized. Nevertheless, they arise powerful feelings within author and reader as well. Boredom is the greatest writer`s enemy. But he can fight against it by using unusual and colorful ways. He can use metaphors, lyrical possibilities, figures of speech in order to communicate with readers. Prose is narrative because it is made of series of events that posses some innate organization, and it spreads since events can be divided into smaller events and broadened ”backward and forward in time.” All in all, the novel was created in order to tell a long and complicated story which is impossible to be told otherwise. It cannot be comprehensible to the reader without the spine of narrative logic and tension. Narrative can be used in countless ways because it is so natural, effective, and universal. The novel is a popular form which does not leave out uneducated people because it demands narrative for organization. In every novel, the voice of the narrator is heard. These voices can be charming, attractive, beautiful, wise, smart, offensive or violent. But, the reader must deal with them. The novel is colored by the special characteristics of the narrator and those characteristics affect the reader. From Smiley`s point of view, “length is always a promise, never a threat.” When the protagonist appears, a novel becomes special, and he shapes the other four elements. He must also be able to make a long novel. If he is boring, ordinary and monotonous, the reader will lose interest in him.

In my opinion, the first two chapters of Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel are very clever and interesting. Smiley writes as a novelist, thinking about her own experiences as a writer. However, she also writes as a literary critic and as a reader. Her most important goal is to argue in favour of the novel as a creative vehicle and channel of communication. From her point of view, the novel is the greatest language of freedom. People are too proud and self-centered. But novelists try to make them better human beings. When you read a novel, you enter into a sensibility different from yours, and you become interested in another person because he is interesting, not because he is powerful, popular or privileged.  Compassion is demanded of novel readers, and when they read a novel they become more considerate and generous. And they, generally, become less vain and egocentric. Maybe they start to think about their own emotions and opinions. When you read a novel you will be more able to understand the world as another person understands it. And you will also try to think about the world around you in many different ways. Eventually, you will learn something new. A novel has many possibilities. They can be personal, social, political, artistic and aesthetic. It is a rewarding experience which makes you less arrogant, greedy and morally blind. 

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