During an interview about her recently published trilogy of novels, Rachel Cusk said that she tried to replicate the ‘plotless nature of life’ in her work. She makes no attempt to interpret what her fictional main character observes and, in so doing, forces her readers into making something out of her protagonist’s observations. By doing this she taps into the storyteller in every reader, the ability of readers to join the dots and make the story. Though events in our lives may be random, we attribute a plot-like meaning to them. We try to make order out of the mystery and chaos of our lives.
My own sense of order turned to chaos recently when the weather forecast was so bad that all the ferries to Rottnest Island were cancelled. This is a very rare occurrence, but it happened on the day when sixty one members of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators needed to cross the channel for their annual four-day Retreat. There was, understandably, shock, disbelief, even panic among the delegates. Suddenly all the months of preparation, the money spent on accommodation, the booking of various venues, not to mention the excitement and anticipation that accompanies this event was in jeopardy. Hundreds of phone calls, text messages and social media posts were created the evening before we were due to leave. Then one of the three ferry companies decided that, if they made just one return crossing, early in the day, they could probably get back before the storm hit. That morning, after a scramble to rearrange travel plans, the SCBWI group was deposited on the Island and by the evening all was calm again. How random is that? How much chaos did it create. We were all unsettled. We carefully examined every possible circumstance, every way of making sense of this drama. Then we proceeded to turn our thoughts into stories. Some will, no doubt, form a significant part of our writing life and effect our future in various ways.
Perhaps some would say that Rachel Cusk has abdicated her responsibility. Isn’t it her job to tell the story? No, not necessarily. I think that, by giving her readers less, she actually gives them more. By trusting them to joint the dots she allows them to personalise the story and make it their own.
Whatever happens, the Rottnest Retreat of 2018 is certainly one we will all remember.