Guest Post (1): Pat Pinsent on City of Ember
Reading this I am struck by the way in which Pat has used the term "suspension of disbelief"--I'll try to explain what I mean later today.
Responses to Farah’s criticisms
I feel that the points made are all, in themselves, valid, but seem almost perversely to be reading the book as if it were a work of realism rather than fantasy. There is no ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ which might allow implausible situations to be accepted for the sake of what they add to the story, or to an aspect which is very important in this book, its symbolic effect (which largely works implicitly, with I hope the young reader not being explicitly conscious of it). Remember that no work of fiction, even an ostensibly realistic one supposedly set in ‘our’ world is in fact so located- all are constructs which therefore obey the rules imposed by their creator, and if this means there is no atomic clock, or gas doesn’t explode in tunnels, then these are presumably the conditions in that world. At the same time, the created world has to be close enough to ‘ours’ for the reader to relate, and I think DuPrau achieves this. Thus, plausibility is an irrelevant criterion for deciding on the book’s merit. Therefore many of the points in the category ‘Things that just annoyed me’ don ‘t really demand discussion. The only point on which I would agree with the criticism is the lack of a mythology for the missing information- an opportunity missed by DuPrau.
Among the things I like about the book:
• I am fascinated by seeing the children’ learn and grasp solutions in the context of what we, the implied reader, can connect up with the world we know.
• The book seems to be to some extent a reflection on the danger of stifling childhood abilities by ‘assigning’, and the potential that individuals have for rising out of such a ‘dark’ system. While it’s not an allegory as such, it certainly makes good use of the symbolism, especially of light and dark, and I think the arrival into a ‘light’ world at the end, which we recognise is like ‘our’ world, is a very moving moment.
• The idea of the community being founded by elderly people and babies may not be plausible but it’s a fascinating hypothetical situation.
• We need the conept of ‘blindness’, the lack of ingenuity of the inhabitants, to make us appreciate the quality of the vision of those who get out of there.
Amanda Craig, in The Times of Jan 15th, compares the notion to Forster’s ‘The Machine Stops’ which also describes ‘a society turned in on itself’. She goes on to talk of how the protagonists have ‘defied the increasingly corrupt and dicatatorial authorities,’ and how the book ‘asks moral questions: what if the world as we know it came to an end, and only a few could survive? Who would be chosen? What kind of society would we create, and how? At its heart City of Ember is about the imagination and passions that artists and scientists bring to their society, and how it is their visions which are our salvation. Its engaging young heroine and hero have adults to give them good advice, but it is their own courage, energy and ingenuity which cracks the mysterious instructions and brings the novel to what is at once a satisfying conclusion and a terrific cliffhanger...’
I think this sums up my feelings quite well, certainly in the context of the youth of the protagonists and how this relates to the implied young reader.