Words are curious things, when all is said and done. The ability to wield them well takes a phenomenal amount of effort. I don’t care what anyone says, to produce decent fiction requires a measure of skill that demands more than a passing dose of application. I picked up a book to read on holiday, the novel that Showtime will be adapting into 22 parts which will feature that bloke that used to be Bond. The problem is ‘Purity’ by Jonathan Franzen is a horrible, frustrating and frankly depressing piece of literary deception. I know my opinion matters not one jot in the greater scheme of things, but if this is what passes as the pinnacle of achievement for a long-form novel?
My biggest problem is that the characters I’m supposed to care about I have absolutely no affinity towards anyone whatsoever except themselves. They’re all beautifully realised and I can see them in my head, but this is a world where all anyone does is fuck up. The characters, their circumstances and motivations are all sexually-driven, which should be reason for celebration, but instead it’s all for the wrong reasons. The backdrop of the narrative, in a post-Wikileaks world where secrets are the currency of the age, should also be a major hook but instead none of this matters next to the brittleness of the protagonists. I am desperately trying to care for a brace of female leads who should, by rights, appeal to exactly my sensibilities, except all I want to do is shake them and ask why they keep expecting anybody else to be either noble or caring when they’re acting like idiots. In fact, when all is said and done, it is the point where the character who Craig will be playing turns around and shows his true colours for the first time that I just want to throw up my hands and walk away in disgust.
I will never write a critically brilliant novel, because if this the benchmark, I’m so not ever fucking going there.
What this novel has achieved, however, is make me realise where in the literary world I’ll want to sit. I’m never going to produce this kind of behemoth. I’d frankly never want to. If success is to be measured on the length of the critical plaudits, the Franzens of this world can keep them. If this is how you win awards then fuck that for a game of soldiers, I don’t want to be known as the woman who came to writing late in life and managed to pull it off. Forget anything except the desire to tell a story with at least one foot in my own reality. I need to feel I was true to the heart and soul of my narrative. Trying to be clever is a mug’s game, especially when you’re attempting to produce a notional version of a world where women’s motivations matter as much and often more than the dominant alpha male.
Purity’s not a bad story, at all. That’s the point, I suppose: it is clever and brilliant and seductive in the plotting and makes you engage with the characters. I entirely understand why it is being adapted, but I’d not want to do it because making the narrative make sense in visual terms is going to be a hard ask. What I wanted for my holiday was a story I could get lost in, instead all I’ll end up doing with this is shouting at the characters for fucking up their lives. That’s not engrossing for me. It’s just depressing and too much like life for comfort.
In the end, I like my stories written a different way.