Archive for the ‘multiple authors’ Category

Mathers, Helen et al.  The Fate of Fenella.  (1892) Kansas City: Valancourt, 2008.

I’ve included this novel in my alternating narrative project, not because it is multi-focalized, but because it has multiple authors–24 of them (and thus offers an adult comparison with a YA novel like Click).  It was a project initiated by a publisher, who invited many popular writers of the day each to contribute a chapter to an ongoing story, which was then published in a serial form in a magazine called The Gentlewoman in 1892.  The writers included some still very famous ones, like Arthur Conan Doyle and Bran Stoker (author of Dracula), some who were huge bestsellers in their time (Helen Mathers, Florence Marryat), and some less widely known or read. (including F. Anstey, who wrote the children’s novel Vice Versa, basis of so many Freaky Fridays and such.)

It’s not exactly clear how they did the writing, but they seem to have written the chapters in turn without any advance planning of how the plot would develop, etc.  Thus, each writer would get what had been done so far and add a chapter.

The plot is about an unhappy couple, murder while sleepwalking, kidnapping, vile villainesses, and so on–sort of condensed cream of melodrama.   There’s a real sense of each writer trying to top the others–be even more excessive, more inventive in ways of torturing the heroine.  Indeed, the major interest here for me is how this sort of writing quickly turns a novel into a game.  The writers seem to be determined to end their chapters with the characters in the midst of impossible dilemmas, or in farflung parts of the globe.  the next writer then has to figure out how to get them back together again so that something interesting can happen before the next chapter comes to an end, again at a place which leaves the next writer with an apparently insoluble problem,  The plot then has many outrageous twists and turns, and is totally and completely illogical, and involves an immense amount of hastily skimmed over travel.   One might say the same of the multi-authored YA Click, actually, except that there the basic device of the novels logically allows for a much wider scope in terms of story content, location, etc.

While multi-authored, the novel tends to be traditional writing of its time.  Thus, it does switch from focalizer to focalizer, but in the context of a fairly omniscient narrator who makes the switches within the course of an ongoing narrative.  Unlike more contemporary alternating narrations, then, it tends to bury or conceal the switches in point of view, rather than putting them front and centre, as so many YA novels do when they actually name alternating chapters with the names of the characters whose point of view they present.   as a result, unlike those YA novels, writing of this sort doesn’t tend to make its alternating focalizations thematic–it doesn’t necessarily contribute to or offer a way of understanding what the book is about, as it odes in, say, novels by Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville or other YA pairs.

While the narrative techniques are more or less stable throughout, the tone changes drastically from chapter to chapter.   Some are more fraught and fervent than others.  And you can tell that some writers are having a really good time doing this–playing the game–and others are just phoning it in.


Park, Linda Sue, David Almond, Eoin Colfer, Deborah Ellis, Nick Hornby, Roddy Doyle, Tim Wynne-Jones, Ruth Ozeki, Margo Lanagan, and Gregory Maguire. Click.  New York: Scholastic, 2007.

Ten authors each write a story that connects in some way to the other nine stories–but the ways are many and diverse.  It happened, according to a Booklist review this way; “After author Roddy Doyle suggested a collaborative novel to support Amnesty International, editor Arthur Levine sent a concept manuscript to 10 of his favorite authors, leaving the rest up to them.”  I’m not sure I understand what a “concept manuscript” is, and I’d like to know just how detailed the concept was.  In an NPR interview of some of the authors, Linda Sue Park says she made up the first chapter before the others knew what would be happening, and the others responded to that–but that chapter was much vetted by Arthur Levine as editor; and apparently some details were changed in earlier drafts so that the stories would match up.

Anyway, the stories are intriguingly diverse.  For much of the book, they all seem to share a realistic world–but then, in Nick Hornby’s story (number five in the series), something weirder happens:  it turns out that Gee, the character who has appeared and will appear in one way or another in all the stories, and whose American granddaughter and grandson have figured prominently earlier (and will again later), also (or alternately) has another alternate family in an alternate life in France.  This is left more or less unexplained, except for the American granddaughter deciding that it’s okay if she and members of the French family each believe in their own version of Gee (100).  But then, later in a story by Margaret Lanagan,  an Australian girl who meets the young girl of the first story as an older woman is capable of producing (imagining?) versions of herself, or parts of herself, into reality, so that they separate themselves from her and go off and live their own lives in the neighbourhood, sometimes meeting up uncomfortably and comparing notes.  And there’s a sense that this somehow works as an explanation for what happens to Gee and his two alternate families earlier, so that one author offers an explanation for something described in another story by another author.

On top of all that, the stories take place back then, in Gee’s life, or now, or later on, in an imagined future some decades from now.–and in every kind of place from postwar Japan to a Russian prison to an Australian beach.  But all are somehow tied in to Gee and his family.

This suggests something of the weird and inventive nature of the connections being made here–a sort of jazz-improvisaitonal quality emerges, as the authors seem to be riffing on what each other has produced and trying to find the most ingenious ways possible to undermine it or amplify it or change it.  All this suggests the ways in which books alternating sections by more than one author have the potential for being a game: consider how the two authors of Sorcery and Cecilia (Wrede and Stevermer) try to back each other into corners–and I remember that Carol Matas and certainly did something similar in the process of composing  the Minds series we wrote together.  Also, not surprisingly, the books that emerge seem to operate often as puzzles for their readers–a game of puzzle-solving, as readers are invited to notice (without, often its being explicitly pointed out) how a minor detail in one story becomes major somewhere else, or how objects taken for granted later become problematic and central, etc.  and often, because of information from earlier stories, readers know more than focalizing characters do about strangers who come into their lives–and so can read resonances into the situations being described beyond what the characters themselves are aware of.

The more general device operating is something like this: Gee, a world-famous photographer noted for being in trouble spots in troublesome times, has died, and has left gifts for his grandchildren.  The girl gets a box of shells from all the oceans of the world, and instructions to return them back to where they came from–and so stories emerge of how Gee first collected them, or about what happens when his granddaughter returns them, throughout her life and into the future in the last story, where she is an old lady close to death in an sf future.  The boy gets a camera, and a career as a photographer, and we hear about his meetings with various characters in some of the stories, also–so that the shells, the box that contained them, the camera, the meetings of others with Gee and/or his grandchildren, become the connectors that tie the various stories to each other.

All of this is done to benefit Amnesty International, and so I have to think about why this set of strange stories might relate to the values of that organization.  Most obviously, the book establishes, in its weird and inventive way, a complex version of the cliché that we all live in the same planet, are all connected with each other, all have or can have an effect on the lives of others quite different form us living different lives elsewhere.  That’s not surprising—what is surprising is just how strange and inventive a version of that cliché the book ends up being.