A Reaction to John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman
When I read a story I usually become aware that I am empathizing with the protagonist or some character, but I let this mindset go on anyway, as this for me makes the story all the more interesting. But in this particular story, I did not find any character that I could empathize with, hence for me the story fell a bit flat.
One annoyance I find in this book is that the reader is reminded that “These characters I create never existed outside my own mind”. I grew to resent the author’s intervention. Even though I recognize the merit in the inventiveness of the novel (it is unusual, and that is what makes it interesting, at least for discussion), that the author injects his identity into the consciousness of the reader makes the book fail to be immersive; I am left with the feeling that it is all too contrived.
The narration is funny and witty, but the language was a tad too wordy for my general taste (I understand that Fowles was writing in the Victorian style, but that is one thing that degrades the book in my view). Furthermore the story itself is predictable (even the two endings are what one might expect any author to think of), and what can keep the reader reading is the novelty of the way the story is presented.
Fowles’ style is admittedly humorous, but it ruins the book for me, He describes his skill in creating, he goes into one whole chapter explaining the process of writing, and presents us with the contrived idea that he “lets the characters make their own decisions.” I am sure this should not be taken literally, but I feel that this is just smacks of what I have come to think as pretentiousness on the author’s part. Although I must admit the Fowles deserves some praise for his story’s novel structure, I cannot get over this particular idiosyncrasy in the work.
The three conclusions are frustrating. When I set out to read a story, it is usually with the assumption that the author will provide me with a story, not a choose-your-own-adventure. Fowles could not decide how to end it, thus he presents the reader with the endings that he likes. The ambivalence of humans is universal, and I did not need another demonstration of this; when I escape into a book I would like a story, period. I can imagine that many writers must have faced the same dilemma, but they did not give in to the temptation to play it safe and just present several endings for the reader to take his pick from.
It may be that I can be seen as merely “conservative,” one who cannot appreciate inventiveness in art, but I understand that the artist frames in reality what he wants to see. But in this particular case I feel that Fowles floundered; he could not even settle on a good conclusion to the story.
With that said, I must go to the conjecture that, while reading it, I must have been carrying some literary baggages that somehow hampered my appreciation of Fowles’ work. I guess the book must not be taken as merely a story, but a unique artwork, to be properly appreciated. If the reader immediately assumes that the work is a mere story, then these expectations may hamper with appreciation. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in literature, even if only for its novelty.