Monday, January 25, 2010

True metafiction

3. Pienin yhteinen jaettava  by Pirkko Saisio ("The smallest common denominator")

Pirkko Saisio is well-known for taking elements from her life and turning it into fiction-fodder with great results. My previous read was Elämänmeno, and after having read this Pienin yhteinen jaettava, a biographical account of Saisio's father's slow death and her coming to terms with it, I could tell how much Elämänmeno was also, in fact, an autobiography of sorts.

The almost schitzophrenic aspect of this book makes it so interesting: Saisio does not hide it that deep down, all authors are somewhat narcissistic. I'm not saying this as a bad thing - the usual maxim of writing is "write what you know about" - and for most it's something that they are passionate about, which in turn is very much tied into peoples' personas. Saisio, however, takes this one step further: she is describing events from the "I" point of view, when suddenly there is a paragraph break and she describes herself as a fictional character. At the same time, it's a terribly narcissistic yet an artistic thing to do; to create a fictional and an improved and more interesting character out of your everyday self. The book begins with the author awakening within the narrator:

I was eight years old when it happened for the first time.

It was November, a morning.
The street was black and shiny. It swelled behind sleety, wet windows.
I saw my reflection in the window. I was plump and irritated.
I was pulling too tight woollen socks on.
A button was missing from my vest. My mother dug out 5 marks from her purse.
I put it in my sock. 

And then it happened for the first time.

I wrote a sentence in my head: She did not want to wake up.
Then I fixed the sentence: She would not have wanted to wake up yet.
Then I attached another sentence to it: She was much too tired to go to school.
I improved the second sentence: She was much, much too tired to go to school.

I looked at my father triumphantly - he was wearing a t-shirt and reading Työkansan Sanomat newspaper and drinking black coffee.
Mother was applying lipstick from her lips onto her cheeks in front of the foyer mirror, and hummed Ilta Redillä.

Neither of them noticed, that I had become a she; someone under constant observation. 

(Saisio: 5)

Soon a pattern emerges. Saisio describes events from the "I" point of view when facts are laid out without too much emotion, but the "she" narration takes over when Saisio wants to make an additional comment, or seems to be too embarrassed about/scared of saying it in her own voice: instead she steps back and looks at herself as an almost fictional character. Another example:

It wasn't until evening when I called the Hämeenkatu apartment.
I waited long until the phone was picked up.
Father's voice was tired and depressed, again.
- Well it's just me here.

Her voice was soft, somehow sickeningly sweet.
She had begun to speak to her father as if to a child. 

She tells her father, "I came back about an hour ago". Then the next paragraph is just one sentence: Why was she lying?

It is almost like a study in language. "I" is the utterance without a context, an almost a blank slate, whereas "she" becomes the context and the meaning. 

Quite fascinating, I'd say. I can imagine that had I read this at any other point in my life, I would've found it too gimmicky. Why not tell a straight-forward story? But the story is not actually about Saisio's father dying and her getting slowly over it and her memories - it is about Saisio finding the story so difficult to tell that she needs to hire a fictional alter ego for her services. It is basically about how fiction and story telling is crucial to human lives, and how it may be therapeutical. This is Saisio's story, and she has all the right to tell it the way she wants to.

No comments:

Post a Comment