There’s an odd piece in the Guardian today by Philip Pullman – following on a piece by Philip Hensher in the Telegraph last week – bemoaning the use of present tense in contemporary fiction. Pullman writes,
“What I dislike about the present-tense narrative is its limited range of expressiveness. I feel claustrophobic, always pressed up against the immediate.”
Sometimes – that’s the point. When someone like David Peace uses different narrative styles and tenses with his books a choice to write in the present tense is deliberately conveying an immediacy, a claustrophobia, a sense of being trapped. The choice of tense is a key element in characterisation, something which creates tension. Could Peace have so successfully drawn the “Clough” character, in The Damned Utd, without his use of a second person narrative to remember the past as well as his present tense narrative for the time in charge of Leeds? Would the sense of menace around his time at Leeds – the apparent lack of trust from the players, the precariousness of his position – have worked without the present tense narration?
Perhaps, but for me a writer creating a work of fiction does not necessarily adopt an in vogue style. Decisions are surely carefully deliberated on to best serve the work.