Writers’ undercurrents: in the novel you’ve just read — or in your own writing?
Sometimes it’s only after finishing a novel that you become aware of its undercurrent. For instance, in Dead Water (Simon Ings) the fast paced plot involves the protagonist in a deadly international chase after an evil target; but the undercurrent is the dangerous potential of shipping containers which cruise the globe; an understandable preoccupation.
You may be more unaware of hidden undercurrents in your own novels. After a while without reading your work again, consider what you’ve actually ‘said’. It may be a romance or a crime story, but what you have allowed to happen in the plot, or between the characters – such as unexpected capitulation – or within the protagonist him/herself, can suggest unspoken drives or attitudes in your writing.
Even when there’s a distinct variety in the subject matter, authors may unconsciously repeat themes that have marked their lives.
Take two important writers Kasuo Ishiguro and Elif Safak. In 2015 they happened both to be speaking at the Bath Literary Festival, but on separate days, and were probably unlikely to have conferred. However, both authors had a ‘burying’ undercurrent in their novels.
Ishiguro’s first novel for ten years, The Buried Giant, is a fantasy. Its fantastic beings form the plot but the ‘buried’ in his title refers obliquely to the human tendency for suppressing memories about painful matters. Ishiguro suggested all his novels had an underflow of this unspoken, part-forgotten material.
Talking of The Architect’s Apprentice, Shafak referred to the ‘collective amnesia’ of Turkey, saying so much has been suppressed. Sadly, historic artefacts are not being preserved perhaps because, then, uncomfortable events in history are more easily ignored; the role of the woman, the existence of minorities.
Shafak said that there is little urban memory: residents do not know the origin of their street names, for instance, and are not encouraged to ask questions or to care about the past. She mourns the loss of cosmopolitanism in Turkey. The variety of cultures, nations, sub-groups is precious and stimulates creativity.
This strong feeling about burying discomforting events and feelings, drives these authors’ writing; the undercurrent enriches the work. What undercurrent can be detected from your writing?