People Who Want History Want History

Kruger, Naomi orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0194-8333 (2022) People Who Want History Want History. In: A Little Unsteadily Into Light: New Dementia-Inspired Fiction. New Island Books, -47. ISBN 978-1-84840-861-6

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'People Who Want History Want History': is an experimental short story commissioned as part of an AHRC-funded project on the representation of dementia in fiction at Queen’s University, Belfast. This was published in the anthology A Little Unsteadily into Light: New Dementia-Inspired Fiction (New Island, 2022) ed. By Jan Carson and Jane Luega
In his review of the anthology in Books Ireland David Butler argues that ‘the richest and most thought-provoking approach in the anthology is …[the]… playful ‘People who want History want History’, perhaps because it cleverly eschews the need to have a fixed narrative perspective.’ He goes on to describe it as ‘an ingenious cat’s cradle of false and interrupted narratives… [purporting]… to be a recorded ‘reminiscence interview’ between a patient, Edward Pye, and university student Justyna, interleaved with advisory documents on how to conduct such an interview and concluding with the kind of pat summary one frequently encounters on the doors in care homes.’

This story builds on my existing expertise in representing dementia in fiction. I was keen to experiment in the short story form (already heavily associated with ambiguity and implication) to create charged hermeneutic gaps for readers to grapple with. Michael Trussler argues that the brevity of the short story form suspends continuity and ‘intimates that the impulse to mold time into sequential narrative is often incommensurate with our experience of temporality (1996: 558).’ I aimed to build on the disruption already embedded in the form by playing with temporal, environmental and narrative dislocation to further echo the way dementia disrupts perception, autonomy and a coherent, narrative sense of self.

Structuring the story around documents means readers have to navigate a fragmented narrative searching for connections and imagining into the gaps. The lack of described setting and fixed narrator, as well as the contrast of ‘heard voices’ in the transcript and more instructional texts also provides a number of mode shifts. The intention here is to highlights both the impoverished nature of institutional spaces and the troubling power structures within them. Readers can piece this together by noticing the contrast in the limited structure of the reminiscence session revealed in the staff manual, and the way Eddie rebels against the simplified questions he encounters. I was also keen to use his voice and the story as a whole to challenge some of the damaging stereotypes still perpetuated about people with dementia. As Jane Luega argues in the afterward to the anthology, the story is ‘a creative patchwork of different voices… [which]… makes us appreciate the communicative skills of people with dementia; their conversational contributions may not be orderly or conform to… expectations, but they can be rich, impassioned, and are worth listening to (2022: 227). Overall, my intention for this story was to create a troubling and challenging text that draws attention to the multivalent stories that might emerge even when conditions such as dementia mean that sustained narrative becomes impossible.

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