‘Narrative truth: is that different from any other kind of truth? I mean the question seriously, because it relates to the idea of authenticity.
‘James Wood, who is a superb critic, has made the distinction between a reliably unreliable narrator and an unreliably unreliable narrator, which I find quite useful. We know perfectly well when a reliably unreliable narrator is spinning us a line, because the clues are given; either because the author alerts us, reliably, to the narrator’s unreliability, or else via other characters in the story, and their asides or observations. The unreliably unreliable narrator, such as ours, is a trickier proposition altogether, and more interesting both to write, and to unravel.
‘Insomnia – from which I happen to suffer – provides a perfect mechanism for this, because the insomniac, in the depths of his insomnia, really is, or feels himself to be, outside of normal reality; for the insomniac, much of what people who sleep normally take for granted seems to take place in a sort of demi-world, or dream-world, from which one is almost completely detached. Events take place randomly, in a kind of blur or haze, and the ‘truth’ is what each person (or reader) makes of it. Of course, that does not make their reading the correct one.
‘There are other readings, other interpretations, in literature as in life. However, in The Blue Tent, the only point of view on offer is the narrator’s, so in order to uncover any ‘narrative truth’ whatever, the reader is going to have to do some guesswork of their own.’
Richard Gwyn’s insomniac narrator lives an isolated, bookish existence in the Black Mountains, in the house he inherited from his enigmatic Aunt Megan. One day he awakes to find a bothersome blue tent has appeared in the field opposite, too close to his garden: ‘How can the occupant or occupants of the tent know that the house is not inhabited by a dangerous lunatic, some deranged assassin? Why on earth do they imagine they are safe? Lord knows, I have an axe.’
In this 2019 interview with Wales Arts Review, Gwyn discusses The Blue Tent, unreliable narrators, the influence of obscure alchemical texts, and the bourgeois self-satisfaction of the realist novel.
Richard Gwyn will be joining us on 3 February 2020 for a reading and Q&A session. This event is free, but as it will be delivered via Zoom, booking in advance is essential. Please book your free place via Eventbrite.