Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wednesday Word - LACUNA

Another word that fits quite neatly into the world of books.

LACUNA: a gap in a manuscript, inscription, text, painting or musical work.

There are four ways a lacuna can occur:

1. Parts of the physical manuscript are missing

2. Unfinished works

3. Gaps in time within the story

4. Information gaps in what is being read

Gaps in the physical manuscript need no explanation.

Unfinished works abound throughout literature, usually where the author dies before the completion of a manuscript or planned sequence of books. Some examples are Dickens' 'Edwin Drood', Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' and Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast series.

Gaps in time within the story are there for a reason, usually to set up a contrast between the how a person was before and how they are now. The most famous example is perhaps Virginia Woolf's 'To the Lighthouse' in which there is a gap of many years between part 1 and 2. In that gap World War 1 has been fought, the reader's imagination has to fill in the gap as to events on the basis of the readers own knowledge and the changes in the characters in the novel.

Lacuna in the information the reader is being given by the author occur both naturally and by design. Whilst reading we constantly fill in information because if an author wrote everything stories would be impossibly long. What is left out by the author can therefore range from the trivial right through to information central to the story, such as the identity of the murderer. Gaps can also be temporary, to be revealed later as a plot device, or remain completely unfilled, a good example would be Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw' where an explanation for the events in the novel remain unclear and ambiguous (a similar and modern example is Sarah Waters' 'The Little Friend').

Gaps can enhance interest and curiosity and are therefore central to the readers involvement in the story. It is in the gaps that imagination takes flight for if everything is described for us then there would be no need for imagination, it is through imagination that we engage with the author. The author has a choice of how much to tell and when, so the reader when identifying gaps has to ask 'is this gap relevant and if it is relevant why is this information being withheld?' Obviously in the detective story the identity of the murderer is the culmination of the investigation which has gone before it and it makes sense that the revelation comes at the end of the book (although in Donna Tartt's 'The secret History' the identity of the murderer is known from the beginning - it is the why that is important). It is in books with an unreliable narrator that the author's power to give and withhold information comes into its own, not only does the reader's imagination have to fill in details that the author leaves out but the reader has to decide whether to believe the information they are given! Examples of this type of fiction would be 'The Turn of the Screw' and 'The Little Friend' mentioned above and also Sebastian Faulk's 'Engleby' and Poppy Adams' 'The Behaviour of Moths'

Gaps are therefore the way in which an author keeps the reader interested in what is happening in the novel and also how the reader's response to the novel is manipulated. Far from being silent spaces, gaps are filled with the readers own imagination and speculation.

Next Week: Debt

No comments:

Post a Comment