This being the mid-semester break and all, it was time for a literary lunch. A real literary lunch, not one of those ones where you pay $55 for a big plate with a little bit of food on it, a glass of wine and a famous writer who seems too bored to prepare an interesting talk and instead does a ten minute self-promo and then waits to sign a billion books (all right, I've only been to one of those but it was pretty disappointing, especially when the book was only available in hardback so I didn't buy it).
By a real literary lunch, I mean eating nice food, drinking champagne (to celebrate my new book) and then spending nearly three hours talking books, books, books and writing, writing, writing, and a little bit of other stuff for variety.
My friend G and I love to swap recommendations (today we had a great discussion about "We Need to Talk About Kevin") and I often come away with my notebook filled with titles and authors to find at the library or buy. I introduced her daughter to Louise Rennison, and G has just given me "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" - Jonathan Safran Foer. I had to take it to lunch with me to show her the internal layout of text and photos/illustrations as she had experienced the book as an audio book.
And we talked about this first person/present tense thing. Having recently read M.J. Hyland's novel that was shortlisted for the Man-Booker "Carry Me Down", G made a really good point about why she found the fp/pt in this novel so difficult to read. It's relentless. Everything has to happen in the now, and so everything has equal weight. Pouring a cup of tea is as important as demanding a divorce (as a quick example). The reader never gets a break from being "always in the now". Things go on and on.
Simple past tense seems to allow for more variation in pace and tension, and events are able to be given their proper importance in the scheme of things.
Now, of course there are writers who use fp/pt to great effect. Anything can be used to great effect if you understand what and why you're doing it. I think a lot of YA is written in fp/pt for exactly that reason - adolescent angst/rite of passage stuff can be portrayed extremely well in fp/pt. But not always. And it also tends to "disallow" genuine reflection by the main character or narrator. Instant analysis of current or just-past action tends to be fleeting or shallow - time and some distance is what allows us to think more deeply about meaning and consequence.
OK, this was a small topic in a lunch spanning many books and writing quandaries and challenges. G is off to find "The Red Shoe" by Ursula Dubosarsky, and I will be hunting down M.J. Hyland's first novel, "How the Light Gets In", which she did recommend.