“Oddiputs”

Sweets from a Stranger coverThinking some more about the matter of Fisk’s voice, and how different it is to that of contemporary YA, perhaps we shouldn’t be focusing on the fact of the difference, but asking where it comes from. That is: rather than writing in an ironically distancing voice just because he likes it, it strikes me that the difference may be that these are stories designed to be told — to be read out loud — and that the sense of distance follows on from that fact.

The first scene of “Oddiputs”, for instance, dips into the minds of three of the four significant characters in the story. We get a glimpse of put-upon robot Oddiputs’ resignation at the abuse and mockery he gets from his child-masters, and in particular Sally; we feel younger brother Bruno’s hesitation before joining in with the teasing, and older brother Dex’s shame at the whole situation. Later paragraphs contain asides like this:

But it was a vast list of facts and figures that he repeated, longer than an Encyclopedia. So long that it took Oddiputs whole minutes to produce and digest, at lightning speed (for robots are fast, very fast) the information that proved Oddiputs’ existence to Oddiputs. (84)

The narrator is a palpable presence: you can feel him confiding in you, drawing you into the story. A movement away from this sort of voice, and towards predominantly first and very close third person fiction can be seen as both a gain and a loss, I think. What is gained is obvious — directness, immediacy, a sense that the story is being told by an equal, not mediated by an adult. (Even in some of his first-person work Fisk is reluctant to give up that mediation: Grinny is clearly framed as the protagonist’s diaries as polished up by noted author Nicholas Fisk. Of course, this is also a strategy to increase the “authenticity” of the tale, and Fisk does have some fun with it in You Remember Me!) On the other hand, what is lost is the awareness that such directness and imediacy is in the end always an illusion. The story is still mediated by an adult — by an author — even if it pretends otherwise; and that’s not such a bad thing to be reminded of about fiction.

You also, perhaps, make it harder to have unlikable protagonists. The duelling parties in “Oddiputs” — the defective robot, who develops an egomaniacal certainty of his superiority to “dirty” humans over the course of several laborious night-times of thinking; and brattish Sally, who torments to robot just to reinforce her power over every aspect of the world around her, and all the people in it — are both thoroughly unimpressive sentient beings. But because they’re at one remove, perhaps it’s easier to enjoy their duel; it’s hard to imagine the story being as successful if told from one perspective, or even simply alternating between the two perspectives. As it is, we can sit back and enjoy their wicked antics.

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