The conceit that writers can create real worlds is an idea implicit in almost all meta-fiction and one that’s found expression in films like 2006’s Stranger Than Fiction and last year’s Ruby Sparks, where a writer (played by Paul Dano) controls a real-life woman he’s created through the words he types about her. Of course his awareness of these powers doesn’t come breezily; there’s no normal about it. When “the author” sees Ruby in the flesh for the first time, he ducks behind a wall, he freaks out; he cowers.
Halfway through the day at Hughes I made my way to the back room where the extras were milling about, waiting for a scene in which they’d be needed. I sat down next to an elderly gentleman in a tweed cap; he reminded me immediately of the character in the novel who gets all the best lines, a barfly called Conneely. We chatted a minute about the weather, the changes in the village over the years and the movie. I introduced myself by my first name and asked him his. He tipped his cap. “Joe,” he said quietly, “Joe Conneely.”
In the end, it isn’t just the experience of watching one’s inside world become an outside world that’s abnormal – although having a man in a tweed cap scare the bejesus out of you because you briefly forgot that you raided the Spiddal phonebook a decade ago in order to furnish your chorus of villagers with local surnames is an unusual experience – it’s the fact that it works that’s strange; that every day human beings conjure stuff up and every day other people manage to somehow access it. It seems normal to say to an author “I loved your book,” and for some authors it might not seem unusual to hear such a thing, but let’s just think for a second about how extraordinary it is that worlds made out of words and sentences and ideas can be transplanted; how extraordinary it is that every day readers read books by writers and writers meet those readers and we behave rationally instead of jumping up and down at the marvel of it all. Poulet calls the act of reading, of thinking the thoughts of another as if they were your own, “astonishing.” That such an act might go one step further and manifest in a cinematic form is simply another iteration in the marvelous shared process of imagining.
Stay screens at TIFF Sept. 11 at 10 p.m., at Isabel Bader Theatre, and Sept. 13 at 9 a.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1. Aislinn Hunter’s new novel, The World Before Us, will be published by Doubleday in 2014.