The Yellow Notebook
After some weeks, she heard from Dr West, apparently casually, though with a hidden triumphant malice, that Paul had gone back to Nigeria again. ‘His wife wouldn’t go with him,’ said Dr West. ‘She doesn’t want to uproot herself. Perfectly happy where she is, apparently.’
The trouble with this story is that it is written in terms of analysis of the laws of dissolution of the relationship between Paul and Ella. I don’t see any other way to write it. As soon as one has lived through something, it falls into a pattern. And the pattern of an affair, even one that has lasted five years and has been as close as a marriage, is seen in terms of what ends it. That is why all this is untrue. Because while living through something one doesn’t think like that at all.
Supposing I were to write it like this: two full days, in every detail, one at the beginning of the affair, and one towards the end? No, because I would still be instinctively isolating and emphasizing the factors that destroyed the affair. It is that which would give the thing its shape. Otherwise it would be chaos, because these two days, separated by many months in time, would have no shadow over them, but would be records of a simple unthinking happiness with perhaps a couple of jarring moments — which in fact would be reflections of the approaching end but which would not be felt like that at the time — moments swallowed in the happiness.
Literature is analysis after the event.
The form of that other piece, about what happened in Mashopi, is nostalgia. There is no nostalgia in this piece, about Paul and Ella, but the form is a kind of pain.
To show a woman loving a man one should show her cooking a meal for him or opening a bottle of wine for the meal, while she waits for his ring at the door. Or waking in the morning before he does to see his face change from the calm of sleep into a smile of welcome. Yes. To be repeated a thousand times. But that isn’t literature. Probably better as a film. Yes, the physical quality of life, that’s living, and not the analysis afterwards, or the moments of discord or premonition. A shot in a film: Ella slowly peeling an orange, handing Paul yellow segments of the fruit, which he takes, one after another, thoughtfully, frowning: he is thinking of something else.