And This is True

Emily Mackie

First Sentence: You have to start with a bang, he said.

I literally had no idea what this book was about before I started it and was completely unaware of its supposed ‘controversial’ storyline.  It’s about Nevis Gow and his somewhat unhealthy relationship with his father Marshall. In the first chapter they kiss, but it’s never fully clear if it is an intentional kiss, or even if it’s reciprocated by Marshall who happens to be asleep at the time. In fact it may not have happened at all. It may have been a dream. The first sentence is Nevis speaking about his father and one of his many writing tips. Quite a lot of this book has tips/ideas about writing as a craft which I found quite off-putting. If I was looking for a writing manual I would have bought one. Now I know Nevis as the narrator is preoccupied with writing and all its secrets so there is a reason for him to be constantly going on about it, but I just found it very unnecessary, and even uninteresting after a while. I get that things are not chronological, I get that memories, like narrators cannot be fully trusted, I get that important scenes/items need to feature early on if they will play a major part in the story later, but I don’t need to be constantly reminded about all this. Thanks though. I did, however, quite like it when stories are compared to jigsaws near the end of the book:

When fitting together a jigsaw puzzle you don’t start from the bottom and work up piece by piece. You start with the edges, the frame, and then patchwork it all together. And you don’t necessarily need every last piece to make sense of it all.

That pretty much encapsulates the structure of this novel, in fact we don’t even know how old Nevis is (15) until two-thirds of the way through. Nothing is ever really 100% true and I found the more I read, the less I cared if it was or not.

* *

Last Sentence: And I let it go.

Last Sentence explained: At the end, Nevis drops his Kermit the frog key ring. This symbolises him growing up/moving on. Nevis and Marshall used to live in their white van up until the time of the kiss, and then they moved to the farm and lived with Elspeth/Ailsa/Duckman etc. During their time on the farm Marshall sets fire to the van and the only thing Nevis manages to salvage is this key ring, so it is all he has left of his former life with his father. At the end of the book he confronts Marshall and asks him if he kissed him back that night. Marshall denies it but Nevis maintains it happened. This is the crux of the novel and as Glabraith (Nevis’ tutor) says:

Memory is not like a videotape recorder[…]You can’t remember every little detail of everything you say and do. Only fragments. And then you flesh out the rest. Build a narrative[…]

I’ll finish with another one of Marshall’s observations on writing, which I think conveys everything this book was trying to say, only a lot more succinctly:

“Once something has happened”, he says, “no one can ever re-create the event truthfully, accurately, as it actually happened. It becomes a fabrication of a truth. It becomes fiction.”

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