I thought the name of the pass was interesting, but there wasn't an immediately available explanation for its origins. Newly Graduated Sis and I guessed that the currents, perhaps, were what was deceptive -- the water looked calm, but the boat heading into the sound just as we arrived was working extremely hard to make any headway. Of course, it turns out there's another reason for the name, which you can find here. (Ours wasn't too far off the mark, but for the sake of accuracy ... )
Deception -- the more abstract idea -- has been on my mind for a while, so coming across the word here felt oddly coincidental. Before our impromptu trip, I spent about a week trying to get through Hilary Mantel's Giving Up the Ghost, which was definitely not my favorite of the books I've been reading for my thesis. My beef was with the narrative voice -- I couldn't connect with the narrator for most of the work because of its distance, which made it difficult to identify what the memoir was really about. The subject matter isn't hard to grasp: the writer's loss of her father under uncomfortable family circumstances, physical symptoms that elude a diagnosis for years, and the aftermath of treatment for her ailments. But that list of topics still doesn't quite pinpoint what the story is meant to show. Except for the parts where the narrator talks about writing and its ability to mislead. Says Mantel:
I hardly know how to write about myself. Any style you pick seems to unpick itself before a paragraph is done. I will just go for it, I think to myself, I’ll hold out my hands and say, c’est moi, get used to it. I’ll trust the reader. This is what I recommend to people who ask me how to get published. Trust your reader, stop spoon-feeding your reader, stop patronizing your reader, give your reader credit for being as smart as you at least, and stop being so bloody beguiling: you in the back row, will you turn off that charm! Plain words on plain paper. Remember what Orwell says, that good prose is like a windowpane. Concentrate on sharpening your memory and peeling your sensibility. Cut every page you write by at least one third. Stop constructing those piffling little similes of yours. Work out what it is you want to say. Then say it in the most direct and vigorous way you can. Eat meat. Drink blood. Give up your social life and don’t think you can have friends. Rise in the quiet hours of the night and prick your fingertips and use the blood for ink; that will cure you of persiflage!
But do I take my own advice? Not a bit. Persiflage is my nom de guerre. (Don’t use foreign expressions; it’s elitist.) I stray away from the beaten path of plain words into the meadows of extravagant simile: angels, ogres, doughnut-shaped holes. And as for transparency -- windowpanes undressed are a sign of poverty, aren’t they? How about some nice net curtains, so I can look out but you can’t see in? How about shutters, or a chaste Roman blind? Besides, windowpane prose is no guarantee of truthfulness. Some deceptive sights are seen through glass, and the best liars tell lies in plain words.
So now that I come to write a memoir, I argue with myself over every word. Is my writing clear: or is it deceptively clear? (4)
When I came across this passage, it was as if someone had finally put into words the problem I frequently have with my own work. Don't get me wrong; I know what I write will never be objective. But have I illuminated my slant on things well enough? Or has some other story, the alter ego of what I think I'm writing, emerged? Words are tricky things, projecting one image to one reader while presenting something different to another -- obviously, this is impossible to control. But what about that image I see? In the transfer of energy between seeing and telling, have I done my utmost to conserve the essence of the experience, or have I let things escape? And if so, why?
I'm not even sure that makes sense anymore, I've read it over so many times trying to practice what I mean to say. But that's the way it is with writing about writing, no?