I’m going to say something controversial now. I didn’t really like ‘As I Lay Dying’.
That might sound a bit odd, considering it was the book that inspired us to write ‘As I Died Lying’. It may also be sacrilegious to suggest that the work of a Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner could be anything other than wholly satisfying. But there it is.
Let me pour petrol on those whooshing flames now by saying that I really like ‘As I Died Lying’. I’ve just had a sneak preview (minus a few important contributions) and, in the corner of a nice little bar I know in Copenhagen, it had me marvelling, laughing and gripped at various stages throughout.
This is not a puff job on my own writing, although it is a note of admiration for the writing of my fellow authors. Nor is it a hatchet job on Faulkner’s masterpiece. But here’s what struck me on my first read through of our manuscript.
In ‘As I Lay Dying’, Faulkner provides narrative voices for 15 characters over 59 chapters. Faulkner has a definitive voice, but there’s only one of him, and at times for the reader, it’s a bit of an effort to remember who is speaking at any one time.
‘As I Died Lying’ has 15 writers narrating a single character’s viewpoint, each bringing their own distinct styles and devices to their writing. There’s the teenage girl who only speaks through tweets, SMS messages and social media postings. There’s the dead mother, whose voice from beyond the grave infuses a profound emotion to proceedings. Then there’s the drugged up ne’er do well son of the deceased woman, whose contributions read like deleted scenes from an unpublished ‘Trainspotting ‘ sequel.
The manuscript is still at the first draft stage, so there are a few things to fix and there’s a fair bit of tidying up to do – mostly finicky things like ‘are quotes in italics, single quote marks or double quotes?’ and ‘do we use US or UK spellings of certain words – or do these vary according to the characters?’ but I won’t bore you with that.
I’ll just leave you with the promise of a really good read. Probably better that you think it’ll be – it certainly was for me. Better than Faulkner? That’s not for me to say, but I know which one I’d rather re-read.
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by Mark Watkins
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