Friday, July 8, 2011

Five Wounds: The Art of Grief

Five Wounds is a parable as well as a fairy tale. Throughout, it refers to an invisible, suppressed source: ‘The Art of Grief', an abandoned essay on the deaths of my parents. This essay is never acknowledged directly within the novel, but it is available as a free download on my website for those who wish to investigate.

An example may be useful. In the climactic scene of Five Wounds, one of the characters, Cuckoo, makes the (apparently prosaic, apparently unremarkable) declaration, ‘Yes, that’s my wife’. In the novel, this affirmation clearly refers to another character, Gabriella. But this line is also a hidden quotation from the transcript of a coroner’s inquest that forms part of ‘The Art of Grief’. If one knows this, it should be possible to imagine the original context in which these words were uttered (i.e. as part of a deposition submitted to a coroner’s inquest: think about it). But the whole point of the line in Five Wounds is that it turns the original reading completely on its head. In Five Wounds, one of the most desolate and hopeless moments from ‘The Art of Grief’ therefore becomes a positive, life-affirming confession. It becomes the one fact that is going to save Cuckoo from himself.

‘The Art of Grief’ is a key, which unlocks hidden meanings in Five Wounds. However, the relationship between the two texts is more complex than that of a riddle to its solution or a joke to its punch line, because Five Wounds has an independent life of its own. Its characters act according to their own natures, and make their own choices. They are not mere ciphers, condemned to act out episodes of my biography in a disguised, pathological form. The characters may be fantastic, but they are real within their own world, even when they unknowingly refer to events beyond its borders.

In this case, then, one text does not solve the other. Rather, Five Wounds places stolen fragments of ‘The Art of Grief’ in a new setting, which transforms their meaning, as the Venetians studded the façade of the church of San Marco with pieces of marble looted from Constantinople. Here, however, the arrangement is reversed. It is not the loot that shines brightly, but the container, within which the quotations are safely hidden away, like bones in a reliquary.

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