I was reminded of this when I came across the concept of the “stolen head” novel in a review by Toby Litt in last Saturday’s Guardian, defined as
a novel voiced on behalf of a person (for example, Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye) who the reader knows wouldn’t have the patience or self-discipline to write the structured, perfectly punctuated prose with which they are credited. The real writer has stolen the life experiences, the sensual perceptions, the vocabulary, of someone beneath or beyond the day-to-day deskishness of writing. Stolen head books are great for giving us very young, very angry or very damaged-first person narrators.
But some readers must want this degree of artifice or the writers wouldn’t do it. And so I return to my ongoing theme of the differences between us in the manner and extent to which we are prepared to suspend disbelief, which was sparked by my attempts to respond to both flash fiction and flash memoir challenges. I’m letting the latter go for the time being, but persisting with the 99-word prompt which, this week, is to write a story about a decision between two clashing priorities.
Since I started with my novel, that’s where I’m going to finish this post with a story that attempts to encapsulate the central dilemma. And yes, although the novel does use other tenses, this is in first-person present:
“I can’t go six months without seeing you,” says Simon. “Come out to Cairo. You can show me round.”
I don’t want to go six days without seeing him, but I can’t do what he asks. I’ve pleaded work commitments, fear of flying and pandering to my cat, but these are excuses, not reasons, and I’m running out of ways to say no. I’d love to be the woman he thinks I am, fearless and feisty, and untrammelled by the past.
It would tear me apart to go back there. I’ll lose the man I love if I don’t.
If you’re tempted to join in, you’ve got till sometime on Tuesday, depending on your time zone, to pop over to Carrot Ranch Communications and check out the rules. And, if you’d like to know more about my novel, you can download the first chapter of Sugar and Snails.
Meanwhile, do please share your reflections on this post. Are you averse to any particular types of voice? What do you think of the concept of the “stolen head” novel? What devices have you come across authors using to justify their character telling their story?