Currently reading: Donna Tartt, Chigozie Obioma and a note on exposition

I’ll have reviews for Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend and Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen up in the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime I’ve been thinking about the importance of exposition. It was Tartt’s novel that got me thinking about it because she wrote it with such inventiveness in The Little Friend.Tartt, Obioma and expositionThe Little Friend is already a standout and has some of the best exposition I’ve read. Tartt developed her characters with a kind of equal-and-opposite reaction to her exposition: two beads of light rush toward each other, grow in brilliance for that one immersive moment, and then ricochet to unspool past and present simultaneously. Its exposition burrows its way into the present storyline and is still slinking through her novel when we’re deep into it. It made her novel thick with life and let the blood run in her characters’ veins.

The Fishermen is a compelling Cain and Abel story set against the backdrop of 1990’s Nigeria, but it isn’t immersive, and for me the reason lies in its exposition (or maybe with reading Obioma’s novel alongside Tartt’s I’m seeing the contrast of it so sharply). The background for his characters, for the most part told as memories, are too much separate from his story, and instead of bolstering his characters’ actions or emotions at a particular moment and generally furthering characterization or the believability of his story, they’re like little dips into the past: fragments that, while enjoyable to read, Obioma doesn’t successfully integrate into his main story arc. They don’t add the necessary strata that make a novel breathe with authenticity.

I’m holding out on my final judgment for The Fisherman though (I am only about halfway through it and, like I said, its story is compelling). Its faults really are rooted in the exposition though, mainly the motives of his characters that don’t have a lot of credibility in effecting the climax he gave his story.

Full reviews pending; until then – happy reading!

– EMH

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