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November 29th 2022 - Box Sets by Roddy Doyle (Life Without Children, Vintage, 2022)

I just started reading this short story collection by Roddy Doyle (the first of his that I've read) and the first story has done something interesting which I immediately thought "I should note that down somewhere". Here seems as good a place as any. If this is my writer's diary then recording little tricks I find other writers doing is probably a good thing to put in it.

So, Box Sets. There's something interesting going on with the narrative point of view in this opening story. It's in 3rd person and has a certain distance from the two main characters, Sam and Emer.

What caught my attention were instances of a scene being described and then later edited. One scene ends with "He [Sam] threw the mug." It's only a couple of scenes later that this moment is revisited and padded out with further details. We learn that Emer had said "I'm leaving" before Sam "[throws] the mug at the wall, above the cooker."

It's an interesting technique. The lack of detail around the first time we encounter this moment allows the story to progress. The subsequent actions of Sam that we see in the next scene seem like a massive overreaction. A cyclist rides into him and Sam throws the bike into the sea... but then we shift back and find out Emer has told him she's leaving just before this happens. New context comes in to partly justify his mood at the time of the incident we've just witnessed.

I like this technique. It feels like a kind of acceptable cheating. To partially withhold information, but sort of reveal it through the actions that follow on from it, and then fill in the blanks.

Nice one Roddy Doyle. I shall read on.


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