There are certain stories you never want to end. Certain characters you want to rediscover all over again, follow their footsteps, laugh and cry with them, share their loaf of bread and wear their clothes. Journeys you want to take all over again, as if you never took them in the first place. Feelings you felt and want to feel again, not for the second time but as though it was something altogether new and unexperienced. It is a rare occurrence nowadays – the wish to re-live a moment in a novel, despite knowing its outcome. And yet, that is my definition of a good read.
Nowadays, many books are written with an aim. A destination. And once that destination is reached, there is no going back : you know what happened and the rest becomes superfluous. The few crime novels I have read suffer from this, just like many of the commercial thrillers out there (read: many, not all.) It is not something I criticize but rather something I struggle to comprehend.
The finish line is crucial to a story, but not any more crucial than the sinuous path that led to it. That is what I search for in a story. Whether it be a novel, a film or even a melody, I want to experience it, and I want to want to experience it again.
Pretty much every Tahar Ben Jelloun novel I have read has had that effect on me. From the achingly beautiful chronicle of This Blinding Absence of Light which I reviewed in a guest post, to the more violent and blunt tale of The Sand Child and The Sacred Night, I have been taken on a roller-coaster of emotions that have resonated with me for years. I have read (and re-read) them all in French, but I would be curious to hear from anyone who has experienced Ben Jelloun’s stories in a translated language.
Other novels have had a great impact on me, precisely because of the expedition they have taken me on. Memoirs Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden was something special, so was Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann. My most recent discovery is Les Désorientés, by another francophone writer, Amin Maalouf. From my understanding, there doesn’t seem to be an English translation which is truly regrettable; for those who might be intrigued, I will be writing a review of it in the next few weeks, that should give you time to start taking French lessons!
I have read many articles on Literary Fiction, many descriptions and comparisons to other genres and through writing this post, I realise that beyond the flourishing prose and character development, most Literary Fiction novels insist on the journey, not the destination. This genre is so broad that I will neither generalise, nor restrict it to this definition, but if I had to pick one criteria I strive for in my writing, that would be the one.
Khaled Hosseini‘s And The Mountains Echoed is a fascinating drama and historical fiction that I would read again. So is the lesser known yet haunting biography Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah. After a few years of reading and writing, I have stopped sticking to genres. I have my preferences, of course. Who doesn’t? But as long as the terminus doesn’t overpower the journey, I’ll be there.