Tuesday 29 August 2017

The Challenge of the Multiplot Novel

In Dickens what I marvel at more than anything is his management of different plot strands. He maintains control throughout, but there is also a freedom, an unpredictability, a sense of one plot merging into another. David Copperfield hasn't the wild free-wheeling quality of, say, a Thackeray novel (Pendennis acts as an excellent comparison), but nor has it the rigidness of structure of early- and middle-period Trollope. (Can You Forgive Her? is an example of this sort of schema at work: three women, three love plots, a few chapters given over to each in rotation.)

Anita Brookner's plots, while never predictable, tend towards the schematic, especially in those that focus on a cast of characters. Olga Kenyon asked Brookner about this in Women Writers Talk in 1989, in relation to Family and Friends:
Kenyon: You've chosen a family saga, but concise, controlled, through a series of family photographs. Why did you choose that form?
Brookner: Because it was easier. It was not a difficult book to write; it was almost entirely free of anxiety. A chapter to each one is almost the easiest form.

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