The Reluctant Fundamentalist and All the Pretty Horses
The really annoying thing about writing is that for every sacrosanct rule that we’re supposed to live by, there’s some writer who comes up with a narrative which breaks it and damn if it doesn’t work. Like Cormac McCathy’s All the Pretty Horses and Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Take the novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. Reading the first few pages, I thought, “This can’t be a first person monolog for the entire novel. That’s ridiculous. It’s never going to work.” It was and it did!
The author breaks the monolog, in fact although not in form, by having the protagonist ‘repeat’ the words of the American he is speaking to before responding. Similarly, there are long flashbacks which take the more standard form.
But still, a full novel monolog. It shouldn’t work, it does, and is even necessary for the nature of the ending (read it—it’s worth it).
All the Pretty Horses
I hated it at the beginning. Hated, hated, hated it. For one thing, McCarthy had dialogue like (this is my imitation of him):
“Is Ruth coming?”
“Nah, she’s busy.”
“Won’t be no fun without her.”
Who’s Ruth? Who’s talking?
Also, he had long passages in Spanish (without translation) which moved the action forward. And his sentences were often (again my imitation): He hit him with a shovel until he intervened. Aaahh! These are all male cowboys. Give me a hint!
I was pissed but decided to read exactly half-way before giving up to figure out why he was so praised.
Around page 75, I fell in love. The descriptions of the West spoke to me as if I had been born to it. With characters who don’t talk much and whose internal life is almost never revealed. With only their actions to show, McCarthy created a compelling story with basically one authorial hand tied behind his back!
Yes, he still did unattributed dialogue, untranslated Spanish, and confusing pronouns. But it didn’t matter. I loved, loved, loved it.
So some authors can break from the traditional way and make it work. Sometimes, wonderfully.
Accordingly, can you break the rules, too? Next post.