Thursday, May 08, 2008

Jacques the Fatalist

I've just finished Diderot's Jacques the Fatalist, which I think I quoted on here a while back. It's taken a while to read because it was my bedtime book - three or four pages before going to sleep. A very peculiar book, I have to say, written between 1755 and 1784. He wrote it to challenge the artificial conventions of French fiction at the time - doesn't that ring some bells today? It's probably a very early example of metafiction. The narrator steps out of the story frequently to address the reader. He debates with the reader what might happen next, what would be improbable and what predictable and what unacceptable. There is no particular narrative. It's just a collection of stories, where characters appear and just disappear. All of it is designed to prove Jacques' central thesis that everything is pre-ordained anyway, and whatever he decides to do, however ridiculous, will prove to have been inevitable. It's great stuff, a fun romp, with some really entertaining scenes. It also occasionally gives some witty and wise epigrams for the writer. Here's an example:

Be neither the reluctant panegyrist nor the embittered censor. Just tell the thing as it is.

Excellent advice, 200 years plus down the line.

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