12 June 2011

Mysterious writers: literature pairs


Here is an odd pair. Novels that enclose a writing mystery are among my favourites.

In Felice Picano's The book of lies (1998) a young ambitious intellectual discovers a lost piece of writing while overseeing the writing collection of a leading member of the Purple Circle, a gay literary group. His search for the mystery author is a back-drop for an exploration of friendship and betrayal. One of the interesting explorations in the book is that of identity. Are we who we purport to be, who we are assumed to be, or is the truth much more simple?

Carol Shields explores this theme in Mary Swann (1987). Four people with different relationships to Mary Swann, set out to discover and dissect her as the poet who was murdered by her husband soon after handing over her collection of poems to a third party. Who was Mary Swann? The answers slide and escape the reality of Mary's life and become interpretations moulded by academic ambition, conjecture and subjectivity.

Both books are intensely engrossing. For me they raised vaguely disturbing questions about the relationship between writer, writing and reader.

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