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Jewelling the Elephant

June 21, 2010

In The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin, the central character is Gabriel Noone, a writer, who says:

I’m a fabulist by trade, so be warned: I’ve spent years looting my life for fiction. Like a magpie, I save the shiny stuff and discard the rest; it’s of no use to me if it doesn’t serve the geometry of the story. This makes me less than reliable when it comes to the facts.

I’m with Gabriel, or rather Armistead, since he bases Gabriel on himself. Writing fiction involves ‘jewelling the elephant’, and the book is worth reading for the elephant story alone. Later in the novel Gabriel comments: ‘That’s what fiction is for … To fix the things that have to be fixed.’

Maupin picks the shiny stuff from his own life, but he still bases his stories and characters on real events and people (as has been reported of Nick Earls). I’m mining my own life and the lives of others for the shiny stuff in my novel How the World Works, but my hope is that I can use it to create plotline and characters  that are unrecognisable to anybody who knows me. But I do believe that fiction is to fix things that have to be fixed.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Claire Wood permalink
    June 23, 2010 8:55 pm

    I like the phrase “jewelling the elephant”. I guess all fiction writers ‘mine’ their reality for stories. Some offer solutions to interesting questions, others just keep asking questions. I’m not sure that either is right or wrong. I love Maupin’s writing, the humanity at the base of it. I know nothing about him, but wondered how difficult he found the writing of this novel. It seemed to cut so close to the bone.

  2. Bryce permalink*
    June 24, 2010 12:38 pm

    Close to the bone, yes, since it parallels so closely his own experience with Anthony Godby Johnson, who was probably a fabrication. I like the way he shows that a fictional character can mean so much to us, it almost doesn’t matter that he’s fictional.

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