• Alan Bray


I read the reviews for “Hour” (as a friend recently called it) with a mixture of anxiety and pleasure. I steel myself for criticism, counseling myself to be stoic, to accept the good with the bad, or bad with the good. If you’re going to write, you have to expect both reactions to your work. Not everyone will appreciate what you’ve done, and hard work is no guarantee of quality or success.

I’m so happy at the warm reception the book has had. I appreciate everyone’s comments very much, even the negative ones. It’s very interesting to publish a book, because then all the re-vision is over, and the story is released into a world where others will make their own meaning of it.

I think the biggest surprise I’ve had is that a number of people think the book is written in the style of Flaubert, Tolstoy, or Stendhal. It’s very flattering to be compared in any way with those masters. Certainly the subject matter is nineteenth-century, the world-view of the characters very deliberately nineteenth-century. In many respects, the story refers to an earlier time, and I have thought of it as a little time-machine to the past. (A confession: at the very end, Anne-Marie’s thought about blending respect and pity and kisses, is “borrowed” from Stendhal. Sssh!)

But I have to say the style of narration is contemporary. A major feature of nineteenth-century fiction is the use of a narrator’s voice that comments and judges, sometimes intrusively. It’s a storyteller’s voice, and the storyteller is often a warm and witty presence separate from the world of the story and characters. A first person presence, an “I” who is omniscient. Tolstoy, I suppose, is the exception. Unless my memory is bad, I don’t think he uses an “I” narrator. But he does go into lengthy philosophical digressions—whether the “he” is Tolstoy himself or some other implied entity he writes about, an omniscient being indeed.

“Hour” is told from the point-of-view of two characters, Alexi and Anne-Marie, and this format is strictly adhered to throughout. The reader learns a lot about Louis Valsin and Marianne but always through the eyes and consciousness of Alexi or Anne-Marie. There is a narrator presence, but I believe it’s very muted. Some entity is telling the story, as at the beginning when it “shows” Alexi walking down the street in Munich, shows his thoughts and immediate experience.

Both Alexi and Anne-Marie “show” the unfolding story, or the story unfolds through their experience, and they are sometimes just wrong in how they see things, a phenomena that Stendhal or Flaubert would have had a narrator explain.