We praise canonical authors for their boundless imagination. Then why do all their plots feel the same?
Your happiness is put on hold when it transpires your fiancé failed to correctly cash a cheque. This lasts for 130 chapters. Everyone else is ordained.
The spectre of God’s grace haunts your attempts to hang out with people posher than yourself.
You declined an invitation, not wishing, to wit, for it to be understood that you might have deliberately allowed yourself to be put at a disadvantage. Now your ruin is certain.
Your only desire is to preserve an inconceivably small piece of your dignity. You are denied this, because of a prior engagement with the British Foreign Office. This novel is called The Way of the Thing.
w shakespeare (i)
You become King. This turns out to have been a very big mistake.
‘Dearest Mama, An alluring yet unvirtuous rake has designs on my Innocence and has placed me in a sack to be transported to Covent Garden. Fortunately the sack is so designed as to allow the writing of several letters.’
david foster wallace
You suffer from an unbearably acute and inexpressible form of psychic pain and anxiety, the very inexpressibility of which is in and of itself a significant constituent part of this pain. Your name is Quagmire Gesamtkunstwerk.
The only straight person in Paris has a series of very long lunches.
You are forced to move to Manchester, which is unfortunately full of Mancunians. You have great sympathy for the sufferings of the working poor, but this does not stop you marrying a mill owner.
Here is an artist, doing artsy things. Here is a scientist, doing sciencey things. This presents a dichotomy that can only be resolved with a calculated cinematographic finale.
e m forster
Things were bad, so you left England. Now things are muddled, and only a straight-talking Aunt can save you.
Nothing can ever be right again. Here’s a horse.
p g wodehouse
You and all your acquaintances have names better suited to clowns, dogs, or sickening sexual euphemisms. An accidental engagement is contrived to prevent the theft of your aunt’s chef.
The declining institution on stage represents Britain, because Britain is a declining institution.
Your obligation to make a judicious alliance with an alluring newcomer is constantly pressed upon you by your relations. You despise them all.
Award-winning author Dan Brown has written a complicated role for you with his expensive pen. You are a humanities professor at an Ivy League university, but also, somehow, in mortal peril. Your love interest is picturesque but ill-mannered and French. This is somehow worth several million dollars.
The extravagant web of lies that is your home life is shattered by twin irritations: a spate of deaths and a Belgian asking irritating questions.
Shameless recycling of modernist plots, because the novelist is too good at non-fiction to be called out for it.
w shakespeare (ii)
Very much like the reality tv programme Wife Swap, but set in Italy.
An Oxford/ Hampstead sex farce is most profitably understood as a response to Sartre, more’s the pity.
On the journey you drink beer from cold bottles, and peasant’s wine from the big leather sacks the fisherman gave you. When you arrive in the town square, you stop by a café for a bottle of champagne and a bottle of cheap wine. You hate the man you are with. You order more beer. Soon it will be time for lunch.
An elderly art historian, lodged in a manor house in rural Ireland, compares the sky to Poussin paintings. For 250 pages.
You know what Dad.
I’ve always known you to be a cunt.
f scott fitzgerald
Ginevra Beauregard and Redmond Ingram (known as Red at Princeton) are honeymooning in the South of France. They are beautiful, clever and rich. For reasons never fully explored, they have resolved to make themselves unhappy.
(An angry male protagonist wipes sweat from brow) ‘Someone fix me a goddamn drink. From the icebox, Scarlett, from the goddamn icebox!’
To write a comedy of manners once may be regarded as a misfortune; to write several of them begins to look like carelessness.
d h lawrence
You look upon his bright loins of darkness as they gleam in the Midlands sun. ‘Before we have sex,’ he says, ‘here are several of my opinions.’
Lies, lies, misery, lies, suicide, rape, and corn prices.
We follow the fortunes of an upper-middle class family as they spend 40 years engaged in artistic hobbies whose sole purpose is to distract them from the existence of a) the actuality of sex and b) the First World War.
You are trapped within a play within a play within a play within a GCSE drama syllabus.