Monday, October 10, 2011

Alan Glynn writes the best chapter I've read all year

On the one hand, you have the journalism professor who has been quoted as saying that "Anyone who is realistic will know that we will have printed paper products from now till eternity."

On the other, you have Alan Glynn, the first chapter of whose novel Bloodland has this to say:
"It's the unread paper.

"He bought it on the way here, in the SPAR on the corner, but the truth is he'd already read most of it online earlier in the day.

" ... He worries for the health of the printed newspaper.

"Unfortunately, his own direct experience of the business was cut short by an industry-wide epidemic of falling ad revenues. But even in the few years prior to that things had started feeling pretty thinned-out. Some of the senior reporters and specialist correspondents still had good sources and were out there on a regular basis gathering actual news, but as a recent hire Jimmy spent most of his days in front of a terminal recycling wire copy and PR material, a lot of it already second-hand and very little of it fact-checked."
I don't find eternal existence of "printed paper products" a reassuring prospect, nor do I find the declaration's smug, condescending tone endearing (though all I have is that brief quotation; I don't know the context.) Glynn is unprepared to accept the giddy assurances of boosters and innovators that online news heralds the path to a bright new world. His worries about the state of my profession are just a small part of a chilling, brilliant first chapter in which no one is sure of anything, so everyone is alert to everything, antennae twitching at the slightest whisper of disturbance:
"Jimmy stops in his tracks. A group of American tourists walks past him, one of them talking loudly, a big guy with a beard saying something about `this giant Ponzi scheme.'

"At the taxi rank to his left a young couple appear to be having an argument.

"`I told you, he's from

"Beyond them, are lights, colours, a kaleidoscope, traffic stopping and starting."
(Glynn, author of Winterland, is also properly scornful of the voguish use of the word narrative by political manipulators. He surrounds the word with inverted commas and exposes it for what it really means in its current incarnation: manipulation of events to say just what the teller (or the subject) wants.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Anonymous I.J.parker said...

"Glynn, author of Winterland, is also properly scornful of the vogue for narrative, surrounding the word with inverted commas and exposing it for what it really means in its current incarnation: manipulation of events to say just what the teller (or the subject) wants.)"

I'm shaking my head here. Isn't that what a writer does? Isn't that the definition of the creative writing process: the manipulation of events and readers?

What else is there?


October 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I hope the revised version of my post will make my intention clearer.

My target (and Glynn's) is political handlers and reporters who say and write things like “Romney has to reshape the narrative if he hopes to win in November.” Rife with Orwellian overtones, I’d say.

I also once received a solicitation to nominate candidates for an award that asked me to “Tell us why you think your candidate deserves the award,” except it did not use those words. Instead, it asked me to “Provide a narrative of why you think your candidate deserves the award.” Further commentary on that one would be superfluous.

October 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., it transpires that Glynn can speak for himself in this matter. I've just read the following from Bloodland, about the aftermath of a deadly incident involving a private military contractor:

"In fact, since the entire Buenke oepration is under his command, he'll be the one responsible for shaping and disseminating the official narrative of what happened here."


"Of course, the high-visibility brace on his hand leaves no one in any doubt about the narrative subtext that's being peddled here."

The key word is peddled.

October 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

H. L. Banks said...

Thought provoking excerpt - succintly portrays the fears of experienced in the rapidly changing world of communications/writing. Not as scary however as the theory put forth recently - children in schools don't have to be taught how to write - no need.

October 10, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Aha! This is non-fiction. Or rather journalistic non-fiction based on political manipulation of the truth. Not at all what an author does in a novel.
Hmm. Do you think the lines between fiction and non-fiction are becoming blurred?

October 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

H.L., I suspect you might enjoy Alan Glynn's writing.

I am a newspaper copy editor for a living, so I experience every day the sort of thing Glynn writes about here.

October 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., the quotations come from a novel, but Glynn's examples are accurate reflections of an ominious shift in the meaning of narrative from the relating of a story (which, of course, entails manipulation of a kind) to the tendentious manipulation of a story, often with the goal of obscuring the truth.

October 10, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

I find it difficult to find a coherent narrative voice in "Bloodland", which makes it a very intruiging (and, in my case, slow) read.

The sense of channel hopping from one viewpoint to another is very intense in the opening chapters and is presumably meant to drive the reader forward. I tend to stop a lot and think about who is telling the story. Dialogue is the main medium for the introduction of new information and it drives the plot forward.

Modernist techniques are now integrated into contempory fiction writing, but are worth looking for.


The unreliable narrator was constantly being sought and examined when I was a student and this training is useful when reading noir fiction.

Mr Glynn knows how to play with the reader's perceptions. It is Jimmy, not the authorial voice, who seems to be fussing about the state of print journalism.

He is not alone...

October 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm nearing the end of the book, and I found the opening chapters especially compelling. Hopping from one point of view to another is fairly standard technique by now (though Glynn uses it well.) You have hit upon something when you cite dialogue and unreliable narrators. Those opening chapters use both to great effect.

January 04, 2016  

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