Here's a Comment that was posted the other day by the gentleman who publishes A Story Blook blog. His post has subsequently given me a lot of food for thought. I'd like to respond in two posts, this one addressing his particular observations as they relate to A Half Life Of One; and then more generally with regard to blog publishing in a wider context. If you haven't yet read A Half Life of One you might want to skip this post.
In an earlier post I had mentioned that my novel was somewhat "flabby". Here's how the Story Blook publisher responded:
Flabby? Don't know but....First, I loved your blook as I said. You wove the story very well. You take the reader through the inner torment of the protagonist and down into the depths of depravity along with him. You have talent for that character development - you even developed some of the characters around him.However, the story itself ended up falling short and I'll bet that publishers would say the same thing. Let's look at it. So he leaves her locked in the cottage and comes back the next day. He doesn't go inside, but he hears this buzzing. So we (the readers) are left to assume that the combination of cold and terror killed her and buzzing was a swarm of dreadful vermin chewing away at her body or something.Then we fast forward a year. We find a little about his guilt over his father and see the correlation between that and the recent incident. And we get a bit of "Oh well what's done is done and uh oh .. that DNA cloud!". And that's it! That really makes the story fall limp. The story has no twist, no "turn of the screw". Granted the events in the story form twists, but there is no final turn of events in the story. It almost needs another chapter or two. Maybe she got out of the cabin? You leave that possibility open but don't do anything with it. Maybe there was a loose board on a window or something he had not noticed but that she found. A woman who achieves that level of wealth must have some inner courage and resourceful qualities. The possibilities for a final twist from there are .. well endless.Want to have a better shot at getting it published? Put some 'twist & spin' at the end.All the best--- A Story Blook
Right. First off let me say that I am uncomfortably aware that the ending may well be limp. From a literary perspective I might be able to improve it. So, I'll take this observation on board and give it some serious thought. And I may end up changing the ending.
Before I do though, let me give you some background about what I was trying to achieve with this story. I have to be careful here because I'm going to refer to certain momentous historical events and in doing so I risk trivialising them while at the same time inflating the importance of the book.
As I have alluded to in a number of previous posts, just like the hero in the book, when I wrote the book I was under enormous pressure because my business was going bust Like him I had personal guarantees and had put my house up as security for the borrowings I had undertaken. That background was the starting point for the book. But I wanted the book to have a wider historical resonance if possible.
As I have hinted at in previous posts, since I was a child I have been haunted by various images and books that I have read concerning the holocaust and Nazi Germany. (I should point out here that I am not Jewish and that the book is in no way allegorical). As a result, I have often found myself wondering what I would have done if I had been a young man with a family in Germany when Hitler was in power. Would I have collaborated? Would I have joined the army in order to promulgate Hitler's obscene ideology? What if I'd been a concentration camp guard? Would I have still remained a human being or would I have been as brutal and inhuman as the rest of them?
You know, when I look into my heart I really don't know the answer to these questions.
While I was writing my book I drew certain parallels in my mind between the pressure my hero was under and the pressure a decent young man would experience in Nazi Germany. Obviously my hero fails the test, although I think you could argue in mitigation that he does the wrong thing for the right reasons, namely to save his family. I fear that's what I would have done if I'd been a young German back then. That's a nightmare that's haunted me for years.
The buzzing our hero hears when he returns to the cottage is important. Like him, I, the autor, don't know what unspeakble horrors are going on inside that cottage. What is the buzzing sound? As I wrote this scene n the back of my mind was a report I read when I was a kid. In it prison guards reported that in the gas chambers they could hear a buzzing noise, like a swarm of bees, for a few seconds after the Zylon B gas was introduced. The buzzing sound in the cottage is a faint echo of the unspeakable horrors enacted fifty years before. A folk memory of the evil within us all.
Finally, the ending. Nick, our hero, finds that life goes on much as normal after he has committed his dreadful crime. He acts and behaves like any decent human being. He even reverts to being a rather moral individual. Just as thousands must have done in Germany after the war. Maybe these people, no matter how hideous the crimes they committed, did become normal people afterwards. If they did I find this thought truly shocking. Because if they were normal people before and afterwards...
That's why the ending is weak It's as if nothing had happened. It's not right, is it? The reader feels cheated, shocked even at the lack of natural justice. But that's the effect I was aiming at.
On the other hand...maybe I need to look deeper. Maybe things never are the same again and I'm just not seeing it.