Memory and Invention

Mavis Gallant in Granta:

1313493245753 I have never read or heard about anything to do with the writing of fiction that fits, exactly, my own experience, and I now believe it must be difficult. If fiction grows out of the layers of time, memory, imagination and invention, it ought to be possible to dig into the foundation and analyze each element, down to the bedrock. But the truth is that it resists analysis, all but the most shallow and humdrum, and cannot be tested or measured or, really, classified and contained.

Once, it must have been at about 1992, when I happened to be working all day, every day, on a story set in the Paris of 1953, I was stunned and bewildered to step outside and discover the shape of the cars, the casual clothing and clean facades of the 1990s. This shock – a true shock, for it brought me to a standstill – lasted no more than a couple of seconds. Had it gone on I might have believed that part of my mind had been severed and sent adrift. As it was, I accepted it as a fragment of the power of memory to influence time.

I had by then lived in Paris for ten years, on and off, and on this street for thirty more. If I had suddenly been shown a picture of any Paris street, as I had first known them, I would most probably have remarked on the buildings, black with decades of soot and grime, and recalled from a long distance how they had darkened those early Paris winters. It would not have altered the living city, contained in some bubble of memory, ready to come back into life as fiction.

More here.