Preserving fiction and creating something new…


“We choose to go to the moon…  and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. (JFK, 1962)

The Preservation of the Olive Branch is quite remarkable. It does not just defy genre, it almost defies definition. It is not just a work of fiction, it is a reflection on the creative process.  If you don’t grasp this you will not get to grips with the power of the narrative.  The best way I can put it is that in this novel the author undergoes an exercise in the art of ‘seeing ourselves as others see us.’ But that’s not all.

There are two journeys running through the story. One is the simple narrative:  a thriller

that wants to be a political novel – which fails in its endeavour because of the lack of skill of its young writer – and the other is the life journey of that writer as he revisits his creation some thirty years later. Putting these journeys together you get the life not just of the writer/ narrator  but also to some degree of the author. And this is a compelling idea. It is an exploration of the layers of narrative found here which both challenges and rewards the reader in equal measure.

The potential problems for a reader are that the original ‘novel’ is quite weak in places as the preserving narrator/writer himself acknowledges. An inability to see that the story is not just the novel can prejudice the reader – here is the narrator telling him/her that the story is not good and yet inviting them to read on. Why should they?

Initially it’s because the narrator himself is quite captivating and his story is considerably more compelling than that of ‘The Olive Branch’ itself. And this is what the reader needs to appreciate.  It is the act of preservation which elevates the original novel way beyond what it was. And this is a key and important concept to grasp. The narrator is not just preserving a text, he is revisiting his youth and reassessing his former opinions, strengths, weaknesses and issues of confidence. And he is brave enough to lay this bare for the reader.

As the story goes on, the narrator is drawn back into a reassessment of his past and his relationship with his creative process and we as readers are similarly moved. It is when we get drawn into the subtext, the creative process and the reflective aspect of this work that it really comes to life.

The Preservation of the Olive Branch goes way beyond being a novel and enters the realms of asking what a novel is. What fiction is. What creativity is. It’s deep and it requires a lot from a reader. But then it required a lot from the author, not just the narrator, and it is the layered narrative and the one step removed aspect of the work that really captivates. Brendan Gisby may still lack the confidence to stand in the centre of his work – the narrator offers a second hand perspective of the author’s real thoughts – although when he does this, as in The Bookie’s Runner, his writing is truly moving.  But it is that lack of authorial confidence which is at the core of Gisby’s writing and nowhere more so than in The Preservation – where he bravely tackles this issue for himself and lets us in on the process.  The honesty and humility with which he writes is quite unique and deeply moving.

This is definitely not a novice ride. And I would recommend that readers read both The Bookie’s Runner and The Island of Whispers before they attempt this book. That way they will have seen the best of Brendan Gisby’s writing both his fact as fiction/memoir and his political novel and they will be in no doubt that what he’s attempting in Preservation of the Olive Branch is something worth the investment of time on the part of the reader. You need to be reading on at least two levels all the way through. You need to be challenging your own pre-conceptions of writing style and of the importance of class in confidence and creativity. And most of all you need to be unafraid to challenge your own preconceptions and prejudices about the construction and consumption of creativity.  You will find out more about Brendan Gisby by reading The Preservation of the Olive Branch. If you read it carefully enough, you’ll probably also find out more about yourself.

Cally Phillips is a member of the Reading Between the Lines collective. smallREADINGFor more reviews by the group click the image.


About callyphillips

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