After the Crowd Have Gone/After the Crowd Have Gone – Unreliable Narrator

Written as part of an exercise in my Building the World class, the work below experiments with building a single room based on the stereotype of a faded sports star.  The work below the line is the same room, described by an unreliable narrator (Someone who is biased in some way and cannot be trusted to give a truthful description).

The room was a shrine to nostalgia.  Through afternoon light, dust motes danced in the shafts of sunlight breaching the hallowed place, reaching in like adoring fans used to do; begging for an autograph, a chance to touch the champ.  The floor, wooden and once polished to a spectacular sheen, was now rough and coarse in places, years of varnish peeled away in others like ancient skin on decaying bones.

The air was musty, smelling faintly of Mentholatum.  It lingered, recalling days gone by, when aching muscles were a consequence of action and competition, instead of a cold wind or sleeping uncomfortably in a chair.  Accompanying that bitter smell was the hushed smell of dust.  It whirled through the sunlight, infecting every corner of the room with forlorn memories.

Along the wall hung posters, each heralding a triumphant clash of wills.  All faded by time and neglect, their colours muted, the bombastic boasts silenced by the weight of years.  They were joined by a punching bag.  Heavy, leather and old, worn down through use.  It now hung limply from its bracket, useless to the arthritic hands of the one who owned it.

A shelf graced the other wall, gathering dust like everything else in the room and displaying trophies and statuettes, all covered in an ever present blanket of neglect.  They resonated with a melancholy that reached back from a better time.  Even the newspaper clippings, tacked so lovingly underneath the shelf, were yellowed and curled but spoke of fitness and youth and vitality.

In the middle of it all, he dozed; a relic in a reliquary of his own making.  A small, faded man.  His face worn and wrinkled by time and a thousand punches.  His hands, once strong and powerful, now nothing more than claws, warped by arthritis.  He sat and he slept, dreaming of a boxing ring long ago and a young man who was somebody.

This room smelled old.  As soon as I walked through the door, all I could smell was stale old, muscle gel.  The light was very dim, as if this whole place was from an old movie or one of those vintage photographs.  Everything was covered in dust, it coated all of the trophies and shelves like an old jacket.  Posters lined the wall, ranging in age from really old to just plain old.  They advertised fights and fighters I’ve never even heard of, much less care about.  The old guys trophies sat on a shelf, I think they might have been golden once, but now they were the colour of weak piss and not very impressive.

He even had a punching bag in here, a huge one that looked black, but I think might have been brown.  It looked like heavy leather.  It hadn’t been touched for decades, I was tempted to go over and give it a smack, but I was pretty sure it would fall off if I did.  Under the trophies, the old guy had newspaper clippings from his glory days.  Catchy headlines that told of his wins and the power of his punches.  Didn’t have any relevance to me, this guy couldn’t teach me anything anymore.

Speaking of which, there was the old guy himself.  He was sat in the middle of all this crap, like a crusty king on a throne of dust.  His hands were all twisted and looked like claws and his breath wheezed out of him as he dozed.  He was tiny, not the guy I’d seen in those old film clips.  It was as if someone had dropped him in a washing machine and shrunk him.  The champ?  Once, maybe.  Now though, he was just a lonely old has been.

Review of Chronicle of a Death Foretold

This novella by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, who won the Nobel prize in Literature in 1982, paints a picture of life and death on the coast of Colombia in the mid-twentieth century. In doing so, he gives us a glimpse at the culture and attitudes of his home country at the time. If you can get past the impassive way it is told, then there is much to be discovered between the pages of this book.

First published in 1981, Chronicle of a Death Foretold tells the tale of the murder of a wealthy Colombian man by the vexed brothers of a woman he has allegedly deflowered. This man, Santiago Nasar, goes about his day unaware of the danger that the deflowered bride, Angela Vicario, has placed him in. Through interviews and conversations with the residents of the village, we are guided through the final hours of Nasar’s life and shown the multitude of ways the murder could have been prevented.

Nasar is somewhat of a lothario; Good at running his ranch, interested in firearms, drinking and has more than an eye for the ladies. Because of that, it is easy to see why no questions were asked when he is accused of deflowering Angela Vicario. The way information is relayed to the reader about Nasar is unreliable and contradictory. For instance, Victoria Guzman, the cook says, “He was just like his father … A shit.” The narrator’s sister, on the other hand, speaks favourably about him: “I suddenly realised that there couldn’t have been a better catch than him” and “Just imagine: handsome, a man of his word, and with a fortune of his own at the age of twenty-one.” This makes it hard to get a definitive idea of the character and feels like a barrier to having empathy for him. Nevertheless, by the end of the book I did feel sorry for Nasar due to the brutal nature of his murder and the number of times the death could have been prevented.

Angela Vicario, by comparison, is initially presented as quiet and beautiful, a little socially awkward and a little immature. It is her fear of her mother and brothers’ rage that causes her to utter Nasar’s name and by doing so, set the tragic events in motion. As potential antagonists go, Angela is subtle and not entirely irredeemable but because it is never revealed whether her accusation is true or not, she serves well in her role.

Thematically, the piece explores the nature of honour, as it existed in that society in the mid-twentieth century. It does so by showing how the villagers could have prevented the murder and stopped the brothers, but chose not to, preferring to believe that the brothers were justified in seeking retribution. While the novella has a historical setting, honour killings are still very prevalent in modern society, whether in Colombia, the United Kingdom, India, or anywhere else in the world and so the theme of the novella is still as important today as it was both when it was set and when it was written.

Márquez’s use of repetition, constantly bringing the awareness of the reader back to the murder with lines such as, ‘On the day they were going to kill him’ and ‘until he was carved up like a pig an hour later’ helps to heighten the shock and brutality of Nasar’s murder. His presentation of everything as cold, hard facts serves the narrative well and keeps the plot rolling along, despite its nonlinear nature. Personally, the shock of the murder was removed for me by a detailed autopsy scene halfway through which seemed out of place and took away a lot of the impact from the later scene.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold is powerful, darkly humorous and descriptive, though the dispassionate nature of the narrative sometimes jarred with the colourful and poetic descriptions of the village and its people. It also seems as if the villagers react in an unrealistic way when confronted with evidence that the murder will take place, such as when the butchers in the meat market are told by Pablo Vicario, “We’re going to kill Santiago Nasar” and even though they can see the brothers are sharpening knives, nobody seems even slightly concerned.

Yet, today in the media, we see inaction by witnesses and bystanders, content to record and capture on their smartphones, rather than step in and stop a tragedy from occurring, as seen in 2009 when a fifteen year old girl was assaulted and raped outside of a homecoming dance in front of more than fifteen witnesses. With this in mind, the themes and questions explored in this novella seem more relevant today than they did in 1981. Put down your smartphone, read this book and ask yourself, what would you do?

Just keep swimming!!

So, the second week of university is over and our third week is about to begin!  Last week brought with it new challenges as well as some surprising revelations!

I guess you could say that last week was the first time ‘shit got real’ at university, as our tutors gleefully threw tons of information at us and chuckled as our heads

Someone catch my brain!!

Someone catch my brain!!

revolved (I might be embellishing that a little).  We did suddenly find ourselves with lots to think about and lots to study; it’s hard to know where to start, but start I must!

Even though there’s work to do, the reading part of it doesn’t really feel like work and as I read books written by authors I’d never heard of, in styles I’d never consider reading, I find myself enjoying it.  It really is amazing how much you can learn by getting out of your comfort zone and reading things you wouldn’t usually.  I found myself initially confused and disliking Dan Rhodes’ writing style in Anthropology, but by the time I’d finished it, I’d come to love those little surrealist vignettes of his and I will be seeking out more of his work.

Another surprising thing I discovered was how much I’m actually scared of

Scriptwriting in a nutshell...

Scriptwriting in a nutshell…

scriptwriting!  Before I started the course, I thought it was easy, but after our first four hour (yes, four hours of scriptwriting each week!) class, I was petrified by the

technical complexity of scripts.  Hopefully as the weeks go on, I’ll be able to get it straight in my head and I think that ultimately, I will enjoy scriptwriting.  Still, it was scary, eye opening stuff!

For me, the lesson of the week has to go to Building The World.  We were spoiled by having it as our very first class and it was so much fun!  Everything else was struggling to match up to it.  We started easily enough by discussing what secondary worlds were and why we create them.  We then had to imagine what our world would be like without a single invention.  It was fascinating to imagine the possibilities that could exist when just one essential invention was removed from the world.  Although I have to say to some of my classmates, who imagined a world

It's early days in World Building...

It’s early days in World Building…

without the internet, that I remember that world very clearly already!  Jokes about my age aside, the whole lesson was fun and thought provoking.

So we start week three with a good idea of how our lessons are going to go and a very real idea of the amount of work we have to do.  Even with all of the work, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now and I’m so happy I have a great bunch of people to go on this journey with!