It’s actually quite hard to say what experimental fiction is. It’s fiction that consciously departs from ‘conventional’ novels, so first we’d better define just what a conventional novel might be!
A novel depicts a fictional character or characters acting and moving through a period of time, usually but not necessarily a recognisable time from our actual history be it recent or long past. Its primary purposes are to communicate and to move the reader, a remarkable achievement of the author who is absent; that through the power of their words whispered inside the reader’s head as they read, can produce these responses across the separation in actual space.
The first myth I wish to dispel about experimental fiction is that somehow it is exempt from having to communicate and move the reader. It absolutely should, otherwise how could we expect a reader to devote time to reading a book that failed to communicate to them? Literature is a pastime and therefore must provide elements of entertainment.
The other myth I would like to debunk is that the word experimental lends itself to notions of an unfinished process that is still ongoing. Or that somehow the work is half-baked because it’s not been thought through and planned out. That the writer has no idea of the destination he will end up at.
I started writing the way I do, because the books I read didn’t satisfy me. It’s been a long journey finding my way through to discovering alternative ways of navigating the problems of traditional novels as I saw them. This wasn’t something I just arrived at all of a piece, so in that sense I have experimented along the way. But in any new novel I write, I often don’t know the destination. But as I proceed, the things that don’t work I throw out. Thus I think I prefer the term ‘radical fiction’ rather than experimental. It has less negative connotations.
I said experimental fiction consciously departs from one or more elements of the conventional in the way it puts together its narrative. It can be in story, in language, in how it deals with time or space or perspective. It can be in how it treats character. It can even be in the physical look of the book, or the print on the page. B.S.Johnson wrote a book that was loose leaved and came in a box. You could read the chapters in any order you chose, in between the specified opening and closing chapters and the book still worked! Georges Perec wrote a novel without using a single letter ‘e’ throughout, this style of writing being called a lipogram.
What experimental writing seeks to do is not use these devices simply for the sake of being clever or tricksy, but to open up new ways of representing narrative. Conventional narrative usually has story as its main feature around which it is arranged. That story in all likelihood will have a beginning, a middle and an end. The inner workings of the main character’s mind will be slowly revealed through a build up of information as the book progresses and thus the character will undergo a journey or an arc, which will probably end up with them being significantly changed by the book’s end. Conflict will be the catalyst of the character’s actions and resultant change. Time will flow one way as the character progresses, even if flashbacks and memories are used.
Well I’d say that experimental fiction opts to avoid most if not all of those elements in structuring its narratives. First and foremost because human lives do not unfold with beginnings, middles and ends. And while we do live our lives one day after another in a way that we cannot relive yesterday in any real way today, the past is constantly informing and impacting us in the present, through thoughts and emotions which spark off and draw from past experiences. The human mind is not linear, it is constantly feedbacking on its present disposition and comparing to the past information and planning ahead to the future consequences of action. In a way we live in an eternal present. We do not have arcs. We don’t even have stories, rather we have ongoing lives instead. A story is merely a set of datelines we artificially impose on our own lives in order to group events together in such a way as to seemingly offer us a pattern for making sense of our lives. Experimental fiction may opt to represent its characters in this non-linear, constantly feedbacking way. An example is the book “The Damned United” by David Peace, which has the best depiction of a human mind I think I have ever read.
Why might any of this be important? Because experimental narrative attempts to approach ‘truth’ in a different manner than the conventional novel. What could be stranger than seeking to derive ‘truth’ from a work of fiction? Yet if a book can move us emotionally, then it has resonated with some truth within us to move us so. Therefore fiction can touch truth. Experimental narratives primarily seek to represent human life in a more ‘realistic’ way than the conventional novel. That does not mean its techniques are realistic, but it recognises our lives as being far more formless than they are represented within conventional narrative form.
Another significant difference being that the experimental novel is aware of itself as constructing yet another layer of representation of ‘reality’ and weaves that into its quest to more realistically represent human ‘truth’. It is less likely to ask a reader to suspend their disbelief in order to enter the world of the book that is absolutely fictional. Rather it says to the reader through its radical narrative forms, that it is absolutely a work of fiction and therefore takes its place in the confusion of life that forms ‘reality’. And it does so knowingly, in order to better help unpick the struggle for truth; it’s easier to separate fact from fiction, if fiction announces itself clearly.
A huge part of this revolves around language. Experimental fiction is aware of the limitations of language and adopts many different ways to try and make language do what it is supposed to do and communicate meaning. Words will be played with. The likes of Perec go further and play with the letters that make up words.
So experimental/radical fiction seeks different narratives from conventional fiction in order to differently attack the notion of human truth. It is less interested in linear story and plotting. It has a radically different approach to character, one that I feel is more akin to how we are as human beings. Language is key to our fiction, even down to the look of the words on the page which may not be blocks of print all flowing left to right. It endeavours to search for a different type of meaning. Personally, I’m not seeking a revolution to sweep away all other types of writing. This is just a different approach to stories that may appeal to readers who are interested in something a bit different. Something more in tune with our times, than the conventional novel which has basically remained unchanged in form for over 200 years.
From the black market economy of the 1980’s through the gangsterism behind the Clubbing scene of the 1990’s, to today’s decade of drift and low cost airline hedonism, one woman in exile has lived it all. On the run from her gangster husband, Karen Dash is hiding out in a Club 18-30 resort in Kavos on the island of Corfu. A home from home as the neo-colonial horde of hens, stags, booze cruisers and sex tourists turn mythical, Classical Greece into Little Britain. Meanwhile, back in the UK, an NHS nurse decides she has had enough of being assaulted by the patients she is trying to help heal…
A guided tour into the contemporary British soul, conducted by the presiding Mother Spirit as a barfly Scheherazade and an arse-slapping midwife. Avenging angels both. This scurrilous and scabrous book not only peels away the sunburnt skin of our hens, stags, booze cruisers and sex tourists, but delights in jabbing fingers into the pus below. Wish you were anywhere but here ?
About the Author: Marc Nash lives and works in London. He has been in the counter-culture of the indie music scene for 20 years and now works for a non-government organisation monitoring censorship around the world. He has twin boys whose football team he coached for two years, which gave him more stress than anything to do with writing! He has published 4 books on Kindle, recorded 19 videos on YouTube and performs live readings often in costume! His next ambition is to perform a piece with live backing from a scratch DJ.
Want to know more? Check out the links!