22nd October

Before the Event

‘Yes, it’s an odd kind of life,’ he said. ‘An odd way to make a living. You feel a bit of a fraud, like you’re getting away with something fundamentally dishonest. Which of course you are – with the books I write anyway.’

‘Fiction, you mean?’ she asked. They were sitting in the window of the hotel lounge, looking out at the traffic and the people on the pavements. Their coffee cups were empty. The writer had declined her offer of an alcoholic drink. ‘Not yet,’ he’d said. ‘Let’s get this over first.’

‘It’s all lies, isn’t it?’ the writer said. ‘Inventions, subterfuges, squeezing the complicated mess of real life into silly plots and eighty thousand words.’ Sometimes he was surprised, though not impressed, by his own unworldly weariness. ‘I don’t suppose it’s so very different for a biographer or a historian. I was speaking to one of those the other day – a historian, a man who’d recently retired after forty years at a university – and he said something remarkable. Remarkably honest, anyway, I thought. “There are very few facts in history,” he said. “Nearly all history is interpretation.” And I was about to challenge him, to ask what in that case he thought he’d been working with all his life, all that material, all that evidence, when I saw what he meant. He was right. Interpretation is everything. The facts don’t matter a damn, in the end.’

She indicated the street beyond the glass. ‘Those are facts,’ she said. ‘Those people, all that activity.’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Yes, they are. We could sit here all day and watch them, and the longer we watched, the more you would appreciate the truth of what he said.’

She shifted uneasily in her chair. She couldn’t decide if she liked him or not. She almost felt sorry for him, but he would despise her if she admitted that. It was all a game for him.

‘Shall we go?’ she said, glancing at her watch.

He seemed suddenly alarmed. ‘Perhaps we have time for that drink,’ he said. ‘A quick one, to steady the nerves?’

‘No,’ she said. She felt cruel. ‘No, everybody’s waiting. We have to go now.’

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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