Monday, September 11, 2006

Fictional technique: Highsmith and Hemingway

I tend to like fiction that breaks the rules. I don't mean those works of fiction that deviate from theories as to what a work of fiction ought to be or ought to do. By rules, I mean the more technical instructions one receives about narration, voice, point of view, dialogue, plot, character, etc.

Let's take Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley for example. Ripley is a cold blooded murderer, a fraud, and liar. The murders he commits are motivated by Ripley's own selfish interests for financial gain or to prevent people from finding out about his frauds. However, during the course of a Ripley novel Tom Ripley elevates hiding his guilt into an exquisite art form. I forget about what the man is even though Highsmith constantly reminds me. Will he get caught becomes the central concern. Ripley also loves his wife, cares for his housekeeper, enjoys the company of his friends, plus he is cultured. That grounds him as a reasonably nice person under the right circumstances. Ripley is never deluded about what he is doing. Each time he tries to justify his actions as more noble than they are, he quickly catches himself and sees them as acts of gratuitous self interest.

Highsmith has broken a basic rule though with her Ripley. I have been instructed that one should make a protagonist a good guy however flawed. Highsmith writes the mirror image of this rule with her Ripley character. She makes the protagonist a bad guy however flawed with goodness. I, although not sympathetic to him, am engaged enough to be fascinated by him without turning away in disgust.

The tyranny of art is mastering technique so that one can eventually break the technical rules with impunity. As we well know, that is not easily or often done.

That leads to me to wondering about Hemingway and his A Moveable Feast fictional memoir. Did he know what he was up to when he wrote it? That is, did he know that he was lying and being unkind to those he knew? Or was he being merely self serving to protect his image right up until the end?

However one views the Hemingway technique, we know he was wildly influential with that technique. Was A Moveable Feast one more piece of pyrotechnics he tried to pull off before the end?

2 Comments:

At 11:44 PM, Blogger janus said...

Let's take Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley for example. Ripley is a cold blooded murderer, a fraud, and liar. The murders he commits are motivated by Ripley's own selfish interests for financial gain or to prevent people from finding out about his frauds.

is this the book on which the film "the talented mr. ripley" is based? among my friends i seem to be the only one who liked it (matt damon is a believable villain in this one), and i was ever curious about the original source.

 
At 9:01 AM, Blogger Lynn said...

janus -

The movie was based on her Talented Mr. Ripley novel. It is the first in the Ripley series. Highsmith's Ripley's Game was made into a French and American movie. The American movie stars John Malkovich as Ripley. I recommend it along with the Ripley novels.

 

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