Last night we went to an outdoor performance of The Tempest. It was in gardens surrounded by fields and trees, a kind of parkland.
Being cheapskates, we had booked “groundling” tickets. A snip at £5 – but no seat, and no cover if it rains. We sat in front of the stand, coats and cushions under our bums, a couple of feet from the actors and with a 180 degree view of the action. The best, but the most uncomfortable seats in the house.
We watched the first half, totally absorbed. Catching every nuance, every raised eyebrow. Fully aware of the lighting that gradually changed the giant oak, centre stage, from green to pink. It was thrilling. Caliban addressed us. Ariel’s skirts brushed us. We could see the goosepimples and hear the sighs.
But at the interval, our daughter said that we should sit in the empty seats at the top of the stand. She felt too vulnerable at the front. We agreed, our bums ached, it was getting chilly, and surely it would be just as good.
Well it was, but it wasn’t.
We couldn’t see so much, we couldn’t hear so much, and we weren’t part of it.
It occurred to me, as I sat at the back of the stand, that it was the difference between a book that is “close up” to its characters, and a book that isn’t. I realise that I both choose to write, and choose to read books in which the characters are speaking to ME. And probably only me. So that some bridge of intimacy is formed in the first few pages and which I am loathe to break.
It’s the whole Point of View thing. I remember learning about it at Bath Spa and I’d never even thought about it before, but I’m beginning to think it’s the most important part of starting any new story – who is going to tell it, and how?
As I have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to plots, all I can ever remember about a book that I’ve read is the sound of the character in my ear. Where I’ve been sitting inside the action, rather than lying back, away, ever so slightly removed from the story.
So here’s a short list of books where for me the voice has sucked me in:
Liar and Spy – Rebecca Stead
Sky Hawk – Gill Lewis
Artichoke Hearts – Sita Bramachari
A Greyhound of a Girl. Roddy Doyle
The Year of the Rat – Clare Furniss
The Last Leaves Falling – Fox Sarah Benwell
The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak
I Capture The Castle – Dodie Smith
Restoration – Rose Tremain
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths – Barbara Comyns
And next time I go to outdoor theatre, I’ll take a thicker cushion and stay on the ground.