I won’t lie – I’m a bit nervous. Don’t mistake that for cold feet – I’m not having doubts, that’s a different thing altogether. I’m just nervous.
It’s a strange thing to be nervous about, though, considering the occasion. We’re surrounding ourselves with our loved ones, friends and family who have seen us evolve over 30 years and know us better than perhaps we know ourselves.
Then we’re taking those 130 people and putting them in a fabulous medieval barn in Dorset, where they’ll see us married, before being fed food and copious amounts of booze – and asked nothing of, but to dance like pillocks for six hours.
I’m the first to admit, some of my book reviews can be somewhat scathing (my treatment of Rogue Forces by Dale Brown and The Hook by Donald E Westlake come to mind). I think that’s because it’s often more fun to find fault than it is to fathom finesse, if you’ll excuse the alliteration. It’s certainly easier to pick holes.
That’s why this review of Station Eleven by Canadian author Emily St John Mandel is so difficult. If there’s one word I can use to describe it, it’s “effortless”.
Effortless in the sense that I was never obstructed by some forced narrative technique, or distracted by a clumsy phrase or metaphor. I was taken by the hand around this fictional world, the events of interest pointed out but never laboured over, and never was my hand squeezed too tight or my head shoved to examine something uninteresting. It was effortless storytelling.
That makes it difficult to analyse. It kind of washed over me, leaving an evocation of regret in its wake – for that seems to me the central theme.
Last month, the magazine I work for was bought by a competitor. Thankfully, our new owner wanted to keep the team we had together because we produced good content and our business model was profitable.
The problem was, it meant we had to move offices – I used to work in Piccadilly Circus, near the Trocadero, and we were moving to the City, near Cannon Street.
It’s strange how a person’s feelings towards a place can change so drastically over time. Piccadilly Circus is like that for me. When I was a kid, it was synonymous with the excitement and bustle of London town – I specifically remember the giant sinewy bronze horses on the corner of Haymarket, rearing up as though spooked by the traffic. To me, they were ancient statues, indicative of a powerful city that had stood for hundreds of years (I was not to know they were only built in 1992).
If Plato was still around today, it’s likely he would have been a big fan of science fiction. After all, he used fantastical constructs to explore the human condition, pioneering a unique exploration of individuals’ perception. That’s pretty sci-fi.
We can assume, too, his favourite sub-genre would have been dystopian sci-fi, if his Allegory of the Cave is anything to go by. In it, he imagines the plight of chained captives, held in position underground, their reality controlled by restricting their vision to view nothing but shadow puppets cast upon a wall by the light of an unseen fire behind them.
With no frame of reference or experience of the outside world, the shadows on the wall would constitute reality for those hapless captives. The sounds of the captors’ footsteps and voices would reverberate in the cave, Plato thought, and thus the illusion would be formed that the sounds were made by those very shadows. This was Plato’s dystopian vision – a populace imprisoned and manipulated by their overlords to such a degree that they knew nothing of it.
It is perception and the revelation of truth that drives dystopian fiction. At its best, it represents a functional, albeit oppressed, society, unaware of the shackles that bind its citizens: take for instance the controlled happiness of Brave New World; the Papa John’s clones in Cloud Atlas; the history-incinerating regime of Fahrenheit 451. Drama is drawn from characters finally noticing their prison, and rebelling against it.