I’m loving this book so far! I keep thinking of the Ondaatje quote: “A well told lie is worth a thousand truths.” In some ways that sums up this book and even explains a lot about Karr’s The Liars Club. There are some essences (of stories) you just can’t get with what actually happened. In my own writing, I find sometimes that the drafts write themselves. I am merely a passive observer in my experience with the story until it’s all written. Then I read it and find that somehow my brain wrote it better than my intentions could have. My brain somehow chooses the right examples, words, images, symbols and senses to describe the essence of the scene but re-reading it I know it only sort of happened like that. It’s a tough concept to grapple with, especially if you are writing something like a memoir or autobiography. You feel so invested in the truth that it feels like lying when you add or modify something, even something insignificant.
The reason I am talking about this now (as opposed to during The Liars Club) is because Ondaatje’s book feels like one big well told lie to me:
“I remember the wedding…Halfway between Colombo and Kegalle we recognised a car in the ditch and beside it was the bishop of Colombo who everyone knew was a terrible driver. He was supposed to marry them so we had to give him a lift…[the car was full] and noone could really sit on the bishop’s lap, we let him drive the Fiat.”
What is refreshing and fun about it is the way he wraps just enough facts into the story that you have to at least humor him, if not believe him. It’s like listening to your grandfather’s stories. You know they only sort of happened like that, but you listen anyhow out of interest and out of respect.
The other comment I have about Running in the Family so far is the tone. There is something very mystical, magical: “I saw the mosquito nets stranded in the air like dresses of hanged brides, the skeletons of beds without their matresses, and retreated from the room without ever turning my back to it.” This is his families house, filled with history, tragedy and memories. His words are so heavy at times that it takes the reader’s breath away.
I’ve never encountered a writer with the weight that Ondaajte has. It’s got me hooked.