Posts Tagged ‘creating characters of opposite sex’

Tibor Fischer: Voyage to the End of the Room

May 20, 2021

     Another one for the charity shop…

I really enjoyed Tibor Fischer’s first novel, Under The Frog, and have been back to it a couple of times and not been disappointed. He’s a bloke, and the novel is narrated by a male narrator. He’s also of Hungarian origins, even though UK born and raised, so has connections with the subject-matter of the story, set in Hungary in communist times, focused on 1956 and the failed uprising. It’s also incredibly funny, in a laddish sort of way, a real boys’ book, but a good one, and also very moving in places.

Voyage to the End of the Room is a different kettle of fish altogether. The first person narrator is a woman, an intriguing character who is clearly well-off and lives her entire life from her flat, somewhere in a fairly seedy part of London. Not exactly an agoraphobic, contented and able to provide herself with every comfort she needs. She even takes holidays abroad in the empty downstairs flat (which she also owns) using it almost as a stage set, buying in the necessary performers. The story (?) kicks off with her receiving a letter from an ex-lover who died ten years previously.

Fischer writes very well; the prose flows, and with very few hooks he intrigues the reader, and you want to find out what happens.

I read this book once before and have come back to it; the previous time must have been when I was accumulating books and not disposing of the tosh. Because alarm bells start ringing when a male writer presents a female narrator, and even more so when he writes about her lively sex-life, including her younger days as an actor in a Barcelona sex-club. My problem here is with the feeling that this is a man imagining (fantasising?) about how a woman would think and write about her sexual experiences, and it shouts inauthentic very loudly. And, as a man myself, I have no special insights into how a woman sees any aspect of her life.

It’s an interesting and a difficult issue, this one: how much can a person of one sex get into the head of someone of the other sex? Obviously novelists create characters of both sexes. There’s a major difference between writing as a third person narrator and presenting a character in the first person as a narrator. And there’s the even bigger conundrum of groups of characters of the opposite sex – for example, Jane Austen never presents a conversation in which only men are present and only men participate: what knowledge could she have had of what would go on?

So the central Barcelona episode is entertaining, surreal and weird. And then, for me, Fischer lost the plot, or more accurately, didn’t have one, as the rest of the novel degenerated into a series of random and increasingly bizarre stories only vaguely connected with the original missing lover and female narrator. I just got bored and couldn’t wait to get to the end, feeling ever more annoyed with myself for persevering, but I had got well into the book by then.

I looked at the blurb on the back of the book, and failed to recognise what I’d been reading. Eminently forgettable; don’t bother. Under The Frog, on the other hand…

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