02 April 2006 12:59 pm
Earlier this mornng, I finished reading the 1981 novel by Christopher Priest, "The Affirmation." I'm sure I read this before, around the time of first publication, or at least soon after. I recall this as being one of the best books I'd read in a long time, perhaps longer. Now,on re-reading, I believe this to be far better, even a revolutionary novel, one that has broken boundaries, norms, expectations and many previous efforts in the field. Also, it should be said, this profound work should not be labelled 'Science Fiction', nor even 'Fantasy' - it is both a bigger and more encompassing work than this boxy pigeon-holing could imagine. Nor should it be described as a mainstream work, which implies an agreed way, or tried-and-tested particular method or modus operandi. The only notions that may be given and accepted is that the novel is written in the first person, runs for 200 pages and is enclosed and offered as a printed book. After that, the parameters can and will become as large, or as small as the reader's mind. It's a personal journey, so be open and do forget Roland Barthes' notion of 'The Death of the Author', your reading this work may well lead to the disappearance of the reader. In 1966, a major novel was published with an ambiguous conclusion. This approach by John Fowles, in 'The Magus' (and more famously later, in 'The French Lieutenants' Woman'), seemed to herald a more imaginative, yet realistic, approach to the writer dealing with the disparity between story, fiction, neatness, life and endings.
In 'The Affirmation,' Christopher Priest adroitly provides no real ending at all, for the story of Peter Sinclair, the narrator, continues, like ouroborus, the snake with its tail in its mouth, to run on, back to its beginning, staying suspended in the mind for days, weeks (years?) after a reading.The reader, once drawn into the narrator's tale, will take everything as having really occurred, just as in most well-written stories. But just when we reach the point where Peter begins to type out his own life-story, and we believe that his memory is correctly describing events, characters and places, we begin to doubt, ponder, question. During this process the writer inhabits a white room, types on sheets of blank white paper, and all appears well - the truth is told - until other characters attempt to read his work. Slowly, we begin to wonder who/what is real, what is imagination, how far reality and dream inter-penetrate, where/what is the interface - how does one level of existence affect and influence another? This is not only a superb study of a person trying to understand who he really is,in relation to self and others, and what he should be and do, but also shows a mind in turmoil, treading water but trying to find dry land, heading towards a space that is both enclosed and limitless, image and stone reality. Priest/Sinclair has successfully depicts a schizoid state of utter clarity coupled with maximum confusion. He knows what is true and real at every step...then turns another corner, as do the readers... At one point, re-reading his manuscript, Peter Sinclair says there are three levels of the text: the first is the written words, the second is the pencilled alterations and deletions and the third level is what was not written - ie, the spaces, allusions, and deliberate omissions. This is the space that the reader may fill in, with his or her own diaries, dreams, descriptions of the real, word-paintings of the imagined, worries, hopes for the future, memories of past deeds and misdeeds. Read this book once, then let it read you.