Thursday, 31 July 2014

Unnatural Narrative

During my stay in Bologna, I met with some colleagues who specialise in unnatural narrative. Most fictional narrative forms aim for immersion. They tell a story in such a way that the reader will engage in willing suspension of disbelief, i.e. conceive of the fictional world of the narrative as 'real' for the duration of the story. Unnatural narrative, however, is a form of storytelling where the fictional world is deliberately exposed as fictional, often through the use of jarring narrative effects: an author gets into a fight with his characters, or the characters start scolding the reader, for instance. Other effects include the inclusion of deliberately contradicting 'facts' (a character starts out as female, but halfway through the story, without any explanation, he is male; a car bomb completely destroys a person's car, after which he gets in and drives away), the use of the grotesque or distorted narrative.

I have always very much loved stories that are part of this narrative tradition that has, for such a long time, been neglected in narrative theory. During our conversation, each of the colleagues promised to sent the rest of us a list of nineteen novels that we feel exemplify unnatural narrative - the results were very inspiring. Here is my list:

1. Rabelais, The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel (1532-1564)
2. H.J.C. von Grimmelshausen, Simplicius Simplicissimus (1669)
4. D.A.F. de Sade, The 120 Days of Sodom (1785)
6. Multatuli, Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company (1860)
7. James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)
8. Louis Paul Boon, Chapel Road/Summer in Termuren (1953-1956)
9. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
10. Michel TournierFriday, or, The Other Island (1967)
11. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-five (1969)
12. Donald Barthelme, The Dead Father (1975)
13. Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (1979)
15. Günter Grass, The Rat (1986)
16. Mare Kandre, The Devil and God (Djävulen och gud, not translated into English, 1993)
17. Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) 
18. Hafid Bouazza, Salomon (2001)
19. Abdelkader Benali, The Long Awaited (De langverwachte, not translated into English, 2002)