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EDITIONS
Monday, 15 April, 2002, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
In the Forest
In the Forest

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)


KIRSTY WARK:
Is the legitimate role of a novelist to take a real event and fictionalise it?

JEANETTE WINTERSON:
The 20th century has been the century all the ordinary categories have been broken down, between fiction and non-fiction, between the real and the imagined, between autobiography and invention.

Woolf and Joyce started it, and every good writer has worked with it since. Edna O'Brien succeeds here perfectly. It's no longer the little life mangled and lost. It becomes iconic, a space where we can all put our griefs, our fears and hopes.

She's right, Ireland needs to focus on these things, needs to discuss these things. There must be no hidden places.

KIRSTY WARK:
O'Kane in the novel, was at the mercy of paedophile priests when he was young, that's a terribly current story in Ireland.

JEANETTE WINTERSON:
She's been accused of doing this in order to sell books. That's quite wrong. Edna O'Brien is far beyond that kind of writing. She's an extremely good writer, and we owe her a great debt. I think this is a very good book.

KIRSTY WARK:
Do you, Mark Kermode, think that true crime fiction is a genre on its own?

MARK KERMODE:
Creative writing about true crime can be very insightful. Emlyn Williams' Beyond Belief, in which he imagines the Moors murderers, and gets into, I think, the mind of Hindley.

My problem with In The Forest is it's a book searching for its voice for at least the first 70 pages, partly because she's so worried about having to justify writing about this subject.

Suddenly, when we get into the central chapter where the awful thing happens, it's almost as if she becomes possessed by the story. I think the false note in this, there's an author's note at the back which explains the connection to the real case.

I can't understand why she hasn't done, for example, what Pat Barker did with Blow Your house Down. It is a book about the Yorkshire Ripper, but specifically not set in Bradford, specifically distanced. It's taking the subject, but fictionalising it and putting it somewhere else. If you're going to write it in this way, why specifically refer it to that case?

EKOW ESHUN:
I'm all for her writing about real life events. I think, however, both of you are pretty generous with the quality of the book in itself.

The prose throughout the book is purple and florid, it gives way to this gothic romanticism at various moments.

She can't get inside the mind of the murderer O'Kane, towards the end he's running round, quoting lines from James Cagney, as if a 19 year-old murderer at the end of the 20th century is going to be referencing black and white movies from the first half of the century.

The Irishness she describes is sunk in this weird rural pastoralism, where people ran around naked and played pan pipes and lutes.

KIRSTY WARK:
I think she's referring to the New Agers that came in to the community.

EKOW ESHUN:
The whole thing has this romanticism which borders on bad taste, given the subject matter that's involved here.

JEANETTE WINTERSON:
I don't think it's bad taste. She's Irish, passionate, committed, she's involved in her subject. She can't distance herself from it.

We may criticise that choice, but that's not the kind of writer she is. She's either in there or she's not. I think in this book, she is.

EKOW ESHUN:
I don't think she's got in there enough. I don't buy her take on how O'Kane, the murderer, has developed as she is. I don't hear his voice through her words.

If you're really dealing with the mind of a psychopath, simply the fact that he's been abused or whatever doesn't necessarily explain things.

JEANETTE WINTERSON:
What interests me is whether or not this lifts the whole subject matter into a completely different area. I think that's where she succeeds. In 50 years nobody will care about the real-life story, they'll care about the book. That will still work.

See also:

12 Apr 02 | Panel
12 Apr 02 | Panel
12 Apr 02 | Panel
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