Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Show and Tell - a writer's radical choice

New fiction writers are constantly harangued to "Show, not Tell." This is especially important advice for academic and non-fiction writers where telling exposition is often to the rule. J. M. Ledgard (a journalist for the Economist) follows this advice to the extreme. In his novel Giraffe, where the overarching metaphor is sleepwalking, the reader is shown a
magnificent meditation on the quiet ways in which ordinary people become complicit in the crimes committed in their midst.
Like a camera following a sleepwalker in a trance, the novel unfolds following the characters in Communist Czechoslovakia in the mid-70's importing and executing the largest herd of giraffes ever seen in Europe. With explicit reference to horrors of World War II, the novel re-explores the morality of ordinary people within a totalitarian regime.

While the detached camera view gives this novel a dreamy, poetic feeling, it did not touch me like the previous book A Peculiar Grace which was written in a similar style (see my blog entry Where is Heather Jasmine). I did not feel the echo of The Holocaust combined with the PETA-like reverence for the giraffes had the emotional impact I hoped for.

Regardless, it is a beautiful story of life in eastern Europe during a "communist moment."

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