Question: you walk into a bookstore, you are in the mood for some fresh new fiction. Being a creature of your time, you are quite-cool orientated. You are British, perhaps a touch reserved. You flip inside a novel – looks alright, you are, perhaops, reaching for your wallet, when you hit the Dedication page, which reads ‘’For X, seeing as you asked me to tell you a story,’ X being a female name. Do you a) smile approvingly at this example of new, touchy-feely Britain or b) grimace, reach for your sick bag istead, thinking ‘time for a sharp exit?
I suspect that most people will lean towards option b). I hope not, for the dedication is my own. And I would ask you to be gentle with it, dear browser, for it took much bother to get me there.
Dediactions, dedications! The Dedication/ Acknowledgements business is like a little concentrate of the novelistic process itself, with its indecisions and endless revisions. You spend many a moment over the long months tinkering with these introductory pages, time better spent keeping your appointments with the text. And, just like the body of the book, though sometimes you pretend it isn’t personal, it always is. These pages mirror the state of your relationships in a form of quiet revenge Your agent calls you flush with a foreign rights package – straight to top billing on the acknowledgements! Your editor wants to get rid of your first three chapters, sack her from the same… You have a little bust-up with your lady and ‘For X, seeing as you asked me to tell you a story,’ becomes, simply, ‘For X’. You come home to find your bags at the door and you’re thinking, “Hmm. Maybe this book doesn’t need a dedication page at all…”
And beyond these are other considerations. Do you stay ‘in character’ as an author, an artist, by proffering an appetiser of your creative powers, or opt for honesty – the real you? Write something sweet deflated by humour, perhaps, a la PG Wodehouse’s ‘Heart of a Goof’ – ‘For X, without whose frequent presence this book would have been finished in half the time’ I thought of, or go sombrely political (“This book is dedicated to the memory and family of Stephen Lawrence’ – Courttia Newland, ‘Society Within’)?
I looked to other writers on my shelf, seeking safety in numbers, but here was a funny thing. For though I found the odd author keen to remain in character – the typically lyrical Toni Morrison, for instance – “to the two who gave me life, and the one who made me free’ – the pre-dominant mode these days, at least in western literature, is one of most unwriterly restraint. Scribblers so keen to play for high verbal stakes elsewhere go all coy on you at the front. Your Amises, your Rushdies, take your pick – a swift, discreet nod to nearest and dearest, and out. I must confess to feeling increasingly short-changed as I waded.. Sincere restraint has its place but it is a dull one, after a while. Is it not time we asked our scribblers to flex a bit more muscle in this matter?….