The best fiction ends with questions
I have to quote another question and answer from the Kate De Goldi interview that Kim Hill did in Words Chosen Carefully (2010).
Kim Hill: “Some people regard novels, no matter how literary or ‘good’, as an escape, in some way not legitimate. Non-fiction real, fiction pretend. Can you present the case for fiction?”
Kate De Goldi replies: “Carlos Fuentes says, “Let the book teach us all the things pure information does not.” By book I’m sure he means story, and probably poetry, and he says further, “The book is the education of the senses through language.” Certainly that applies to poetry, but fiction – at its best – has always offered me a kind of complete classroom. Which isn’t to say I don’t read non-fiction. I read a lot and quite a variety.
But the ‘lessons’ Fuentes refers to are pre-eminent in fiction because the story’s being served up through character. The lessons revolve around the myriad ways it’s possible to be human. Good fiction is, to rehearse an old saw, both a mirror and a window, offering confirmation or reflection of the known world, in varied and subtle ways, and an opening out on to unknown worlds.
But the key blessing of fiction, to my way of thinking, is its ultimate imprecision about the world and what it might mean to be human. At its best, it’s always existentially inconclusive, in a way much non-fiction isn’t or can’t be. The best fictionalists write to find out, I think Grace Paley said this. And mostly the finding out is small and incremental and the acts of discovery never end. Good fiction is interesting to me for the very reason that it’s not fundamentally concerned with data, or proving a thesis, with pinning down the incontrovertible. The best fiction ends with questions.
My favourite kind of reading is in and around a writer’s entire oeuvre, or work to date, in the case of contemporary writers, because one’s returning to a particular artist’s wrestle with their ‘bone’ – the questions or insolubles that preoccupy them, that fuel their engagement with story. The ‘bone’ notion is from Thoreau’s instruction to the artist, “Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life … Know your own bone. Gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.” So, whether it’s William Mayne, Elizabeth Knox, Margaret Mahy or Alice Munro, for examples – all writers whose work fascinates me and to which I like to return – reading their work offers the pleasure of the particular story they might be telling, but also the pleasure in another episode in the ongoing story of their argument with the world and themselves. The key here for me is that the ‘superstory’ is ongoing.”
Ref: pp.147-148 (emphases in blue bold mine; italics in original) ‘Kate De Goldi: Interviewed by Kim Hill‘ in Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion pp.134-153, Ed. Siobhan Harvey. Cape Catley Ltd: Auckland 2010