Narrative Falsifications of Reality in "A Candle or the Sun"

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

Throughout this novel, which often brilliantly examines the way story-telling, ideology, and reality collide, Baratham's narrator-protagonist observes the fact that stories are so much neater, so much more convenient, than the real life they supposedly convey. Fearing a potentially disagreeable encountrer with his mistress, Hernie Perera comments: "I had to be ready to deal with anything her mood threw up: tears alternating with bitter jocularity, recriminations juxtaposed against happy memories, accusations intextricanbly bound to cajolery" (20). He follows this immediately by telling us how much he prefers narrative to the "vageries of reality":

If a plot went awry I could, with bathos, whittle away sharp corners, smooth, with alliteration, the ungainly contours of events. If a story took a wrong turn, it was possible to move backwards and fowards, massaging away painful bumps with analogy, rubbing down unsightly excrescences with onomatapoeia. [20]

For most of the novel, Hernie, who treats his parents use of 1950s cinema as a model narrative for their lives with scorn, hardly presents himself as a very attractive character: superior, smug, and unsympathetic to his dying father, he betrays his wife with a mistress, and seems to use literature solely as an escape. What, then, is the reader supposed to make of his observations about narrative art, which suggests that it has an essential dishonesty about it? And what in particular are we to make of the fact that this figure who makes devastating criticisms of story-telling is a device of an author who is himself telling a story?

Here are some other questions to consider: Why is it that like so many other postcolonial and post imperial authors -- Salman Rushdie, Graham Swift, and Chinua Achebe immediately come to mind -- Baratham writes a narrative that so explicitly discusses narrative? Is this a characteristic of postcolonial works, and are there an important political valences here, or is this more a matter of postmodernism? Finally, does A Candle or the Sun distinguish among different kinds of story-telling?


Baratham, Gopal. A Candle or the Sun. London: Serpent's Tail, 1991. (Note: Serpent's Tale, the publishers, are located at 4 Blackstock Mews, London N4, England.)

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