Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A couple quotes from Black Swan Green

I just finished Black Swan Green by David Mitchell--it's quite different from both Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, which share a lot in common with each other, but still very good. (Cloud Atlas remains my favorite of the three.) It does make me curious--there's a stereotype of British schoolteachers as being cruel to their students, not just that they seem unfair from a student's perspective (every teacher will seem that way at some time), but that they do things to mock their students, even siding with the cool kids against the one being picked on. I've occasionally seen this in stories set in the US, but it seems especially to be a British image. This book has that--not that the teachers are always shown negatively, but they do fit this angry-at-the-world, belittle-your-students stereotype at times. So I wonder how much of this is simply an exaggeration of that unfairness every child feels against a teacher from time to time, and how much of it reflects how teachers in Britain (used to, I hope) teach? It's ridiculous pedagogy, if it ever was as common as it seems in stories. I wouldn't say I had extrememly progressive teachers growing up, but I certainly never had anything approaching the kind of cruelty in this stereotype, and the former teacher and educator in me is horrified that this might have been a common way to teach.

Anyway, that wasn't what I meant to blog about here. There were a couple quotes in this book near the end that seemed fitting in response to my earlier post about when a story ends (and I know that B. A. Barnett just received the same type of rejection that I had gotten to spark that post, that the story felt like one episode of something larger)--"The world won't leave things be. It's always injecting endings into beginnings." And the final line of the book: "'That's because it's not the end.'" As I said in that earlier post, any ending is artificial, every story is an episode of something larger, and to pretend that the end of a short story or novel is the end of an entire story seems either naive or dishonest. I guess the key is to find the ending that fits with the opening so it's satisfying but leaves the reader imagining what might happen from there.

2 comments:

B. A. Barnett said...

The quotes about endings (which are rather cool, I think) reminded of one in a similar vein from The Last Unicorn: "There are no happy endings, because nothing ends." I think that applies to the not-so-happy endings too.

I started typing out some of my thoughts on "this feels like one episode in a larger work" type critcisms, but then it got too long and I decided it'll have to become a blog post of my own when I have a chance to organize my thoughts better. :)

Daniel Ausema said...

Yeah, that's another good quote--I really need to reread that book. It's high on my to-read list. I look forward to reading the rest of your thoughts on endings!