sábado, 4 de diciembre de 2010

The Rules Of Life by Fay Weldon

The Rules Of Life by Fay Weldon aspires to the feeling of a full-length novel in the guise of a small novella. In less than 30,000 words, we are presented with a science fiction scenario, a society- and even culture-wide ideological and religious shift, a transformation of our approach to death, and then, if that were not enough to make a cake, a life history and the reactions of others to it iced on top. It is a remarkable feat to bring all that off, create a complete and highly satisfying experience for the reader and to do it in an easy, but sophisticated style that is never didactic.

The Rules Of Life begins in a new era, that of the GNFR, the Great New Fictional Religion. Grades of priests proclaim different levels of access to truth. Not a lot new there, then! It’s an age of science, apparently, despite the general absence of anything that seems even vaguely scientific. GSWITS is a character who figures prominently in the book, but we never meet her. She, or perhaps he, is the Great Screen Writer In The Sky, and was probably a comedian in an earlier life, though few laughs are raised. Thus the book opens, and we expect we are to be transported into yet another clichéd distopia, full of romantic references to dysfunctional but homely aspects of the present. How easy is it for a writer to play on people’s shallow fears?

But The Rules Of Life does something more subtle than this. Fay Weldon uses the scenario merely as a means to examine further – and in a different way – those apparently permanent aspects of life that have been the raw material for writers since writing began, and for people in general even before that.

Ghosts have a new status in this rather cowardly new world. Lives can be replayed like cassette tapes. They can be examined, but not quite reconstructed or relived. Our narrator, a recorder priest in the new order, has a disc to examine. It contains, he finds, the life of one Gabriela Sumpter. As he replays the dead woman’s life, he finds himself ever more engaged in her experience. A relationship develops between them as Gabriela relates her life story.

The point of The Rules Of Life may be that no matter how much human society changes its assumptions, its organisation or even its adopted values, there are aspects of life that remain immutable, perhaps inevitable. But despite inevitability, each individual experiences these givens of human existence in what – at least at the personal level – feels like a wholly unique way. No matter how many times we replay it, it only ever happens once. That maybe is the only rule of life.

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