Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

B O O K   R E V I E W
THE PARADOX OF TRUTH
b r i t i s h   m a g i c a l   r e a l i s t s   t e l l   i t   s l a n t—
o n   p u r p o s e


BY BRUCE TAYLOR

LIES THAT TELL THE TRUTH—
Magic Realism Seen Though Contemporary Fiction From Britain
Anne C. Hegerfeldt, editor
© 2005
Rodopi, 383pp
$105 format

THE BACK cover comment reads:
"Magic realism has long been treated as a phenomenon restricted
to postcolonial literature. Drawing on works from Britain, Lies that
Tell the Truth
compellingly shows how magic realist fiction can be
produced also at what is usually considered to be the cultural centre
without forgetting the mode’s postcolonial attitude and aims. A close
analysis of works by Angela Carter, Salman Rusdie, Jeanette Winterson,
Robert Ney and others reveals how the techniques of magic realism
generate a complex critique of the West’s rational empirical worldview
from within a Western context itself. Understanding magic realism as a
fictional analogue of anthropology and sociology, Lies that Tell the Truth
reads the mode as a frequently humorous but at the same time critical
investigation into people’s attempts to make sense of their world. By
laying bare the manifold strategies employed to make meaning, magic
realist fiction indicates that knowledge and reality cannot be reduced
to hard facts but that people’s dreams and fears, ideas, stories and
beliefs must equally be taken into account."
Not only has Hegerfeld illustrated this in her book, but she has done it in a fairly accessible mode of academic writing that, while requiring a careful reading, uses enough examples from magic realist literature to keep the reader turning the pages.

If this is not the definitive text on magic realism, then it must be very close. Great examples and exhausting detail clearly cement her point that certain traits of magic realist literature exist—be it from Britain or elsewhere—which make the writing of magic realism independent of time and place.

One of the characteristics common to magic realism is hesitation—between the real world setting of the work and its realized metaphors. Readers enter such a work, as the title suggests, with a sense of pause as they try to sort out the realistic nature of what they are reading.

The title of Hegerfeldt's book serves as a good example of hesitation: how can one not hesitate when one reads the title, Lies that Tell the Truth? On one level, it makes no sense, but on another level, it's the perfect magic realist paradox. Of course, we hesitate—which is which?

Hesitation serves as one of magic realism's defining characteristics, posits Hegerfeldt. You don’t find hesitation in other forms of literature because parameters in genre are understood. As readers enter the universes of science fiction, romance, literary or western novels, they know intrinsically where they stand and what reality they can expect to be dealing with.

Maybe we really don’t know the "real" nature of reality after all. And this is precisely the point that Hegerfeldt makes, aside from her original intent in showing that magic realism is global in terms of its modes of expression: maybe, just maybe, magic realism defines reality far more accurately than western empirical science and literature.

If you consider just what the nature of "reality" is, all you have to do is look at the recent expansion of knowledge regarding quantum physics and the work of Stephen Hawkings. Better yet, read the cover story of the November 2003, Scientific American: "Strings & Spacetime with 11 Dimensions: Physicist Brian Green talks abut string theory, quantum gravity, parallel worlds, and more." Another way to consider the nature of "reality" might be to check out the recent film, What the (Bleep) Do We Know?

What is truly intriguing to me is the seemingly synchronistic developments in physics over the last three decades and how they examine the strangeness and wonder of the universe. After reading Lies that Tell the Truth, I can't help but entertain the ultimate postulation—that it is magic realism and not science fiction which serves as the literary parallel to modern science's current explorations.

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