Word-Processing

Stephen Wall

  • Hidden in the Heart by Dan Jacobson
    Bloomsbury, 182 pp, £14.99, September 1991, ISBN 0 7475 0981 6
  • A Landing on the Sun by Michael Frayn
    Viking, 256 pp, £14.99, September 1991, ISBN 0 670 83932 9

There have always been novels with a highly developed sense of their own means of production. When, at the end of Mansfield Park, Jane Austen said she’d let other pens dwell on guilt and misery, she was being literal as well as figurative. A pen was what she wrote with. Dan Jacobson’s and Michael Frayn’s reliance on, respectively, a word processor and a tape recorder needn’t be put down to Post-Modern self-consciousness. Novels naturally like to keep up with the technology on which they rely, but an appeal – however disingenuous – to external machinery and allegedly objective documentation is thoroughly classical. In skilled hands, such honesty about the narrative’s status paradoxically enhances rather than undermines its authenticity, although we know, and it knows, that such candour is entirely specious.

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