Monthly Archives: March 2016

The end of the story

The end of the story by Lydia Davis – Picador, 2004; first published in 1994.

What would you do if you want to tell a cliché story of a woman who starts a relationship with a guy, then things go wrong, he leaves her, and she takes some time to get over it? Lydia Davis has a brilliant idea of writing a novel about a writer writing a novel based on a past relationship between herself and a guy twelve years younger than her. From this idea, The end of the story contains two stories intertwining with each other: one about the relationship, which is reconstructed and reflected from the writer-narrator’s memories of what happened, and the other about how she manages to live to write a fiction from that relationship.

So it is not just about how a person goes through a relationship but also, and perhaps more importantly, about how she reflects on a past relationship. Memories do not include everything, and for what is included part of them can be inaccurate or unclear, and how she interprets them now when she looks back maybe different from how she viewed them in the past when she was going through them. Same with how she feels looking back and how she felt back then. Everything comes out really lively and fascinatingly in the book, and it is especially interesting that Lydia Davis does that without using any dialogs but relying mainly on exquisite narration and descriptions. Lots of poetic writings. Sharp as she has always been.

The novel writing of the protagonist based on this – which means her very own – story is also depicted well with interesting details of the craft of creative writing embedded in a pretty typical life of a writer. Also just narration and descriptions yet I enjoyed reading a lot, really page-turning to me.

“The end of the story” is therefore about ending two stories, or more exactly, ending two things: the haunting ghost of a past relationship and the story told in the protagonist’s novel. If it is not always clear when a relationship ends in reality, it is even much more difficult to say when one is totally over a past relationship. I feel that we usually have to decide for ourselves when we are really over something if we really want to be exact about that, just to have a better sense of being really over it. In other words, if we want an end for something that seems to go on and on even when it seems to have ended before, we have to choose/create a point of ending for ourselves. Interestingly, it is very similar to how a writer ends his/her written story: he/she has to decide when the story ends. I guess that is why Lydia Davis came up with the idea of writing this book. She did a great job.

However, for a few times in the middle of the book I did find what I was reading a bit overwhelming. It could be that I was a bit fed up with either the richness of her writing or with the craziness of her characters, or both. I guess it’s just because the book is rich of real life.

Overall I loved the book. I will definitely read it again.

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Where I’m reading from

Where I’m reading from: The changing world of books by Tim Parks – New York Review Books, 2015; first published in 2014.

I enjoyed the first two parts of the book – “The world around the book” and “The book in the world” – more than the latter two – “The writer’s world” and “Writing across worlds”. Perhaps because I am an ordinary reader more than a writer and translator it was easier for me to feel connected with what Tim Parks has to say about reading than with what he talks about when he touches on the more sophisticated craft of writing and especially that of translation.

Overall I find the book very thought-provoking. It can push an ordinary reader/writer/translator to look beyond his/her ordinary experiences by posing a lot of good questions. Going through the book readers can become more aware of what may lie behind our seemingly natural ways of reading, writing, translation, and thinking about books, including some biases created by a globalized world of book making and mainstream culture(s) of reading. What the author talks about in this book is not only worth noticing but also thinking further than what he’s written; all topics are good for discussion and further analysis.

However, the book lacks a bit of blend as a coherent discussion. This might be because it is a put-together of a number of independent articles Tim Parks has written here and there: the endings of many essays are really more an end to themselves than a link to the next, which sometimes makes the book difficult to follow. On the other hand, this is a book you can start reading, or reread, from anywhere you like.

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