I am doing a Mooc (massive open online course) called the Future of Storytelling. Each week some ideas and concepts discussed in videos made by the course tutors, additional reading, and a creative task. Not quite sure what form the tasks will take but the chances are I will put my responses up here – the first one is to retell a memorable story and explain why it has stayed with me.
One of my favourite books is Invitation to a Beheading, by Vladimir Nabokov, which I liked so much I decided to use it as the inspiration for a theatre piece in 2002. I don’t think I have read it since (my copy has disappeared from my bookshelf – if you have it, please return it!), so what of the story remains in my memory? It is about a man called Cincinnatus C., who has been condemned for the crime of being opaque, not fitting in. He is in prison, overseen by a gaoler and the director of the prison, neither of whom has much competence. There is a lawyer, also not blessed with competence. Cincinnatus receives visits from his wife and the rest of his family, who come not to sympathise or campaign for his release but perhaps to witness and display their tacit (or not) approval of his imprisonment and impending execution. The prison director’s young daughter lives in the prison too, and Cincinnatus sees her toy ball rolling past his cell door. Cincinnatus also has a pencil, with which he measures his remaining time on the earth.
At some point, he discovers a fellow prisoner, M’sieur Pierre, but M’sieur Pierre turns out actually to be his executioner who has introduced himself as a fellow prisoner only to put Cincinnatus at ease and prevent him forming a bad initial opinion of his executioner. He coaches Cincinnatus through the protocol for execution. But as the deadline date approaches, the prison disintegrates – the director and gaoler become harder to tell apart, characters degrade, events become ever more surreal. Cincinnatus is taken to the execution place as crowds of townsfolk cheer but as he looks at their faces, they become just painted hoardings that themselves fall away.
I can’t remember if that is how it ends. Read the rest of this entry »