All writers must be thrilled when a reader points out a nuance or theme or anything positive that they haven’t noticed. In a world of knee-jerk criticism, this gives a sharp sensation of pleasure. It’s what Linda Bamber must be feeling with any feedback for her collection of short stories Taking What I Like. My sister sent it to me from California, wondering what I would make of it. I should have started Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch (offered on Kindle for 99c, and even so, I’m told she’s a millionaire) for the book club. Bamber instead demands a lot from her readers – preferably that they’ve taken her university course on British literature! I’ve only read three stories, and they demand a sound background in Shakespeare’s Othello and Henry IV (both parts) and Jane Eyre. If one does have the requisite background knowledge, then there’s fun to be had.
Desdemona is the Department Chair trying to appoint a new minority ethnic group member of the Department as the only one now in it is – yes, Othello. Clare is a professional actor cast reluctantly as Henry IV by a difficult and demanding director. We are enrolled imaginatively both into the part of a professor trying to breathe new life into
her yearly presentation of Jane Eyre as well as her audience. Both book and lectures take place in dreary November. That’s as far as I’ve got, but I hope subsequent sorties into updated written classics don’t always project aspects of the writer, herself, I understand, a university professor. Or perhaps that’s the point? I’ll read on and find out. There’s a strong authorial voice here, and a very clever one.
Linda Bamber needs the reader to be well versed in a shared hinterland of literature. As I near the last chapters and the voyage of discovery into the novel I wrote three years ago, I’m asking myself what knowledge can I assume my readers have. The dramatic events described take place in the future. Do I have to give dates, an imposed rigidity? At the moment there are none. Everyone has an age linked to their stage in life, and all to some degree, particularly the older ones, are firmly rooted in 2014 and today’s reality. It imagines what we are doing to mould the world for future generations, but my readers are here and now, so the story must be well grounded. The foundation for the future evoked.
I look forward to the next revision and propose not to prescribe any dates. I know there will be protests, but…We’ll see.