duly noted

You might not imagine that a blogger could drum out a fascinating post on footnotes, but there is apparently no aspect of reading or writing that Text Patterns can’t spin a story from. Alan Jacobs writes on rythym and narrative force , and how both can be jeopardized by the footnote.  This leads him to muse on a quirky literary rarity: the footnote in fiction.

You have to have great narrative skill and tact to produce a story with frequent interruptions of the line. I can think of two people who have done it well. The first is Jonathan Stroud, whose fabulous Bartimaeus books for young adult readers are lightly dotted with footnotes featuring witty and sardonic commentary from Bartimaeus himself. The other is Susanna Clarke, whose Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell has so many footnotes that you would think they would surely destroy the momentum of the tale. Yet the footnotes, most of which serve to fill in the details of Clarke’s alternative history of England, are my favorite part of the book, and many other have said the same. That was a daring move on Clarke’s part indeed, but a brilliant one, because the footnotes do as much as the story itself to create what Tolkien called a “secondary world.”

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, should get a mention too. Diaz’s compelling novel tells the story of a misfit geek from a Dominican-American family, and in doing so makes constant references to sci-fi arcana, Dominican political history, comic books, conspiracy theories, wringwraiths, secret police generals, Rafael Trujillo, and Galactus, Devourer of Worlds. The footnotes give the impression of a world where there’s always a rumor you haven’t heard, a bloodline you haven’t traced, an in-joke you haven’t caught – much of what makes the novel engrossing, in its comic and paranoid moments, comes from Diaz’ use of footnotes. And since his narrator’s vulgar wit comes through there as well, they come off as conversational tangents that only contribute  to the stories’ dazzling energy.


~ by staticandme on January 10, 2009.

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