By Bruno Noble
"The I is a thing of the moment, and yet our lives are ruled by it. We cannot rid ourselves of this inexistent thing." (John Gray, Straw Dogs, 2002) A novel on the nature of the self
Tuesday, 13 December 2016
The choice of excerpt
I've changed the excerpt. Two readers (who have read the book in its entirety) thought to tell me they considered it unrepresentative of the book as a whole. One found my choice of excerpt too "dark" and said that the book carries more optimism than that excerpt suggests. Another thought it too "masculine", when the voices are actually all women's, adding, "and no-one will look Rorschach inkblot and homunculus up in the dictionary if they don't know what they mean." Really? That's the only time I do look things up.
I must admit to having found it difficult to select an excerpt (just a couple of pages from nearly 400) that would be representative of the entire book and so do it justice.
Which of the three girls' stories should I take the excerpt from? Should I choose a simple piece of writing and risk my book appearing trivial? Or a more "self-consciously literary" passage (as one agent referred to Gaia's story) that, alone and out of context, might appear, well, pretentious? Should I select a comic moment in the story even though the three women's stories are not what I would call 'funny'? Would that constitute me 'mis-selling' my novel?
In the end, I chose an excerpt I considered one of the more testing, denser passages, thinking that if a reader enjoyed it then they would enjoy the rest of the book, that if a reader didn't enjoy it I would have saved them their money. I've now removed it - so much for integrity! - and replaced it with a passage that is less dramatic but in which Sharon, meeting Mie for the first time, tells us as much about herself as she does about Mie.
You can read the new excerpt here: https://unbound.com/books/a-thing-of-the-moment/excerpt.
I've kept the rescinded excerpt below.
“Gaia.” Pierre beckons me, his eyes shifting left to right, along the dark and empty corridor, down and up, from my high-heeled shoes to my halter top, his cocked finger frozen in summons, his pupils black pricks in a backlit head, the silver halo of his hair interrupted symmetrically by two jugged ears, his mouth and nose grey scars on a waste ground, the whole a Rorschach inkblot the meaning of which is indubitably clear.
My immediate thought is that Wanda must be away.
The light from Pierre’s office streams past and around him, finds me and pulls me in. I am back in Papa’s study, not because Pierre’s office resembles it but because the look in Pierre’s eyes is the same as the look Papa had in his at times, the look of wanting something he shouldn’t have, of having what he shouldn’t want, of a man who has relegated shame and conscience to another time and place. The office is windowless and the couch in it stained. We both place our hands on my halter top; when he pulls up, I tug down. I clutch my breasts so that he can’t.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” pants Pierre. His exertion and anger in the artificial light lend him the illusion of having applied rouge. I can’t help but see his point of view: when I sleep with so many, seemingly indiscriminately, why not him? The absence of a butterfly makes me certain in the knowledge that I won’t.
My point of view is clear to me: I am my own homunculus, I sit behind the bridge of my nose and look out of two clear blue windows the shades of which fall and rise as I blink. Pierre insults me or tries to; what he says is mostly correct. My resistance infuriates him.
From my pilot’s seat on the bridge, I maneuver towards the door. I feel I am of my body but not my body, in it but not part of it; it is a craft to which I am essential but not it to me. I have not read its operating manual; despite sensing a great familiarity with its knobs and buttons, I have to stand to better navigate and watch my feet below my lower eyelids’ lashes. I am clumsy: Pierre protests I have hurt him and holds his hand to his lip. I need to get out of Pierre’s office and to think. I am more than this point of view and intuit the continuation of my existence by virtue of my memories that have one thing, my body, in common. It occurs to me on this the first occasion I have defended it that my body might be essential to me. I am desperate to think. I turn the office door handle.
Wanda contemplates Pierre and me. He and I run our hands through our hair and pat it down at the same time, as though one were a mirror of the other. I smooth my halter top down. Pierre tugs at his shirt sleeves. Wanda’s eyes are dead in the gloom of the corridor but I don’t have to be able to see them to know that I will have to find work elsewhere. Mrs Bobeckyj acted to save Gregor and Tomasz from me and, having deposed Jemma, Wanda will be ruthless in preserving Pierre for herself in much the same way. I look at Pierre who looks at Wanda who looks at me. We all know that we are what the other sees us to be.
I pull one lever and push another and turn, steady myself against the corridor wall and start to make my way up, driving forward and up, one mechanical step after the other, up.