Valentine’s Day with truffles, Hugh Grant and lots of bedtime action – my Point-of-View


I can’t like Valentine’s day.

  1. If you need to show your love for your lover on a designated day, IT’S ALL OVER.
  2. It’s impossible to celebrate your unique bond in any restaurant in which a dozen or more other couples are on the same mission, I don’t care how many Michelin stars it’s got.
  3. Flowers die – it’s a metaphor.

But, a long time ago, before I’d properly thought it through and killed all the fun, I did, one year, make quite a bit of an effort.

I found a black truffle, some egg pasta, some wild mushrooms and some cream. They were in a deli in Hampstead.

Standpipe, by chance, had bought a lovely bottle of wine and masses of dark red roses.

That evening, back in our chocolate box country cottage, we made ourselves a delicious supper and drank all the wine. Then we sat together in front of the fire and fell asleep.

When we woke, a few hours later, stiff and a bit cold, we ran to bed, where we slept some more.

The day after, I told my then super-single friend Gallant all about it. I thought it was funny, you see, that all that effort and expense had resulted in nothing more romantic than a lot of sleeping.  And I was sort of boasting. We’re so in love, ran the subtext, we don’t even need romance.

Gallant sniffed. ‘I went to a party. Hugh Grant was there.’

All of a sudden I saw my story through his eyes. Two prematurely aging saddos eat and drink too much and fall asleep. His life, in contrast, was full of the glamour of parties and actual slebs.

A few months later, our mutual friend Naughtie came to stay and I told him what had happened, now telling it ruefully, against myself and Standpipe. Still boasting, obvs.

Naughtie laughed. ‘I was at that party. It was really boring. I rang up Gallant and told him Hugh Grant was there so we could share the cab back.’

It all depends where you stand and what you can see.

This is very much what I learnt doing my literary criticism assignment on Barbara Trapido’s Brother of the More Famous Jack. I looked at Chapters 2 and 3 and although it took me a long time and caused me a great deal of anxiety, I did actually learn something. (This was quite annoying as it robbed me of my traditional opportunity to moan that teachers were ‘making me do stupid, pointless stuff’.)

The late Wayne C. Booth writes in his very useful commentary, Distance and Point-of-View: An Essay in Classication:

Like other notions used in talking about fiction, point-of-view has proved less useful than was expected by the critics who first brought it to our attention.

I wish I could have studied under this man. He seems to have a sense of humour, his analysis is incisive and his final conclusion in this piece, is that reading classics will teach writers more than studying textbooks. In my undereducated case, however, it has been a useful exercise to think about point-of-view in literature.

My process was first to flap around in a panic (it took me weeks even to choose a text) promising myself I’d start writing after I’d read this or that learned text. I finally settled down to close-reading the text only as the deadline loomed threateningly close.

Trapido’s lovely novel is narrated by Katharine Browne, both from a position of belated enlightenment years after the events it describes, and in the present tense. The novel begins when Katharine is a teenager and ends at least fifteen later.

Eventually, embarrassingly slowly, I began to understand the techniques of the writing. As readers we know from the start that Katharine survives the experiences she narrates and comes to terms with them. This means that, as readers, we know more than Katharine, at least while she’s narrating in the present tense. Ta-da! Irony.

One of the reasons the novel is so enjoyable to read is that when I read it, I’m reading it with all my experience brought to bear on Katharine’s life, but also with all the young Katharine’s naivety and, what’s more, with all the older Katharine’s insights, and, finally, thanks to Wayne C Booth, with what I can infer about the implied author’s world-view. All these points-of-view make each word resonate with great power.

Irony is great value for writers. You don’t have to write the stuff four times, you just embed within it four people’s views. That’s the skilly bit.

I know you were all way ahead of me. But I’m glad I’ve caught up, at least on this point. And I’m glad that my efforts to crowdsource my assignment on twitter failed because I got there on my own and that’s a good feeling.

I haven’t had the marks yet, mind.

In the end I never let on to Gallant that I knew Hugh Grant hadn’t been at the party. I felt a bit ashamed that I’d ever worried about Hugh Grant at all. If I’d rather party with slebs than Standpipe, then it really would have been all over and I should have said that, at least to myself, if not to my friend.

I don’t think there’s much of a moral to this story. Except perhaps that couples should keep their dull stories to themselves. If we must be smug we ought at least to keep silent.

Or, as Valentine’s day approaches, certain friendships will be ALL OVER.

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Posted in friendship, life writing, literature, narration, reading, Writing, writing novels
4 comments on “Valentine’s Day with truffles, Hugh Grant and lots of bedtime action – my Point-of-View
  1. I’m right there with you (slowly starting to understand!). I just finished reading Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft, and after the POV section, I thought, “makes sense, now how do I *see* it when I’m reading?” I’ve actually just added the Trapido book to my to-read list, given that you’ve said it was a good read with which to apply the textbook knowledge. I’m hoping at some point, it all becomes second nature.

    p.s. I’ve just bought Valentine’s chocolate for an old boss-slash-friend–which will be given anonymously– but nothing for my husband. 🙂

  2. Yes, I see your point. Valentine’s day is a good day to do a good thing for someone who is lonely. Perhaps that’s the only way to serve St Hallmark and retain any integrity!

    I love Trapido’s work. It’s not just good for learning. But when I read it closely, trying to understand why she’d suddenly changed tense between chapters 2 and 3, I did find it very instructive.

    The book that I’ve found most helpful, although I can only absorb it very slowly, is How Fiction Works, by James Wood, which is splattered all over my assignment …

    Thanks so much Laura.

    Cathy x

  3. Laurie Cosbey says:

    The word “Truffles” pulls me in everytime. I love your story about you and Gallant mixed in with your learning and how you came back to first story in the end. I enjoyed reading this post.
    Valentine’s this year was quickly remembering to cut a heart shape onto the paper I wrote the note on to go in my daughter’s lunch box.
    But, my Hubby did make me truffles, God bless him.
    Glad I found your site. I’ll be back.
    Happy Writing,
    Laurie Cosbey

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