Monday, July 13, 2015

What is Truth?

'"What is truth?" said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for answer.' It was Francis Bacon, the brilliant 16th-17th Century writer, philosopher, scientist and statesman – also the father of the frozen food industry, allegedly dying of a chill after trying to freeze a chicken – who wrote this in his essay 'On Truth', a meditation on its nature.

Several of us have been blogging about just that in the last few weeks, and it's a question right at the heart of what we write – truth, and its opposite, untruth.

There has recently been a vogue for the 'unreliable narrator' and indeed, as we all drag our red herrings across the trail to seduce out readers down the wrong track, we're just doing what crime writers have always done.

I was a Justice of the Peace for ten years, a lay magistrate sitting in court and dealing with minor cases, breaches of the peace, speeding fines – that sort of thing. Before I started I imagined that the hard part of the job would be working out which side in the argument was telling the truth and which side was lying.

Very shortly I realised it wasn't like that at all. Both sides were lying, all the time, and when a truthful witness appeared, their honesty would shine like a good deed in a naughty world, unmistakable. It didn't happen often. I know from my legal experience that the criminal system isn't about justice, it's merely about proof, and that's why. 

As a writer I want justice for the victims, but in a way that is lack of realism – of 'truth', if you like –  as much as the romanticising of police procedure is. But I still think it's important to do it.

One of the reasons people read crime novels is, I think, that they believe  wickedness should be punished in a way it seldom is in the cruelly unjust world we have to live in.

They're right; it should be. So perhaps, in bringing our villains to possibly unrealistic justice we are acknowledging  a fundamental truth, a literary truth.

But then, what is truth? Pilate asked a pertinent question but we don't know what the answer would have been.

1 comment:

Vicki Delany said...

Hi, Aline. Just wanted to let you know that I finished Past Praying For last night. I really enjoyed it. Exactly the type of dark, complicated, psychological suspense I enjoy. Good job.