I believe that a work of fiction is not…
…a machine. It cannot be understood simply by breaking it down into its component parts. It lives in the reading.
…a business transaction. Once the book is in my hands, there is no customer relationship. The book owes me nothing.
…an exam. There is no such thing as ‘difficult’ fiction. There may be fiction that requires concentration, or setting aside preconceived ideas of how a work ‘should’ be – but it’s all there to be read. There won’t be a test at the end, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t see everything. What matters is opening myself to the experience.
…functional. There are times when I’d like a book to fit a particular bill, and sometimes I’ll find the right one and the right time. But many of favourite books do things that I may not have anticipated, which is why I try to let the book have its way when I read.
…mandatory. There is no single book that I have to read, be it old or new. There are books which are essential to me, but these can only reveal themselves with hindsight. Reading is an ongoing process.
…an unfiltered view. Reading a book is like looking through a window, but even the plainest window frames and shapes what you see. The fiction I value most builds that sense into itself: form is the window, and it is made to be part of the view.
…written for my benefit. The author wasn’t thinking of me when writing this book (any book); I ought to bear that in mind.
What, after all that, do I believe a work of fiction is? Just that: a work unto itself. No matter how old, no matter how much has been said or written about it, the work remains, ready to speak anew. I just have to listen.