Chamoiseau, Habila, and Structure

5 Apr

I keep going back to the way Patrick Chamoiseau structures Texaco – the inclusion of diary/journal pages, the subtitled sections, the altering points of view – and how this structure is both completely different but also similar to the way Helon Habila structures Oil on Water.  Both structures do work in authenticating the stories Chamoiseau and Habila are telling.

In Habila’s case, the narrator is a journalist; his journey both mirrors his own personal story, as well as his journalistic discoveries. We talked a lot in class about the use of fog, how both its physical presence and metaphoric presence conceal reality from the reader and the narrator. By telling Rufus’s story in a non-linear fashion, Habila emphasizes this inability to see clearly until one moves closer to the source; but even when Rufus delves further into the story he is pursuing, there remains mystery – a “fog” – that cannot be dissipated by the truth.

Chamoiseau’s structure does similar work. While Habila uses non-linearity to his advantage, Chamoiseau uses varying techniques in order to keep the reader guessing – and to keep the reader invested in his story. I’m most struck by the diary/manuscript/journal pages, and how they are not only included in the story, but are also archived in a way as to increase their authenticity. Chamoiseau does not just drop the excerpts into the story; he chooses to label them in a way that gives the reader an informative edge. For example, on page 148, there is an excerpt from the urban planner’s notes to the “word scratcher,” archived as “File No. 6. Sheet XVIII. 1987. Schelcher Library.” This level of detail stops the reader in the dramatic present of the story and makes him or her stop to consider where this piece of evidence fits in. It is a discovery and a journey, much in the way Rufus’s story is as well.

This structure is also of special interest to me in regards to the novel I’ve chosen for my Amazon book review. Chris Abani’s GraceLand includes recipes and proverb-like epigraphs that on the one hand, seem to have no decipherable purpose in the story, but on the other hand, seem to say more about the protagonist and his family. It’s an interesting stylistic choice, and it’s one I’m intrigued by moving forward for the final paper.

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