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Blogpost on Coincidence: Lodge’s Ideas Applied to Part 1 of Farah’s Maps

(Alzahra)

As Lodge presents in the introduction of this chapter, “coincidence, which surprises us in real life with symmetries we don’t expect to find there, is all too obviously a structural device in fiction, and an excessive reliance on it can jeopardize the verisimilitude of a narrative…Through coincidence, intriguing and instructive connections could be contrived between people who would not normally have had anything to do with each other.”

Though coincidence is a common literary feature used in many novels, the reliance on coincidence can lead to an unrealistic storyline that may confuse the audience and lose their appreciation of their work. Nuruddin Farah recognizes and implements the rule of limiting use of coincidence, as he only uses it once in Part I of the novel. In the very first chapter, we, the audience, learn of the coincidence of Askar’s entire existence. If it wasn’t for Misra coincidentally trying to hide from Aw-Adan at that particular moment and coincidentally entering the same room that Askar the baby lay in with his dead mother before he too dies, Askar would have been dead and there would have been no story to begin with (Farah 4-5).

“If it doesn’t seem contrived, in the reading, that is partly because it is virtually the only twist in the entire plot”

If we apply Lodge’s ideas to Farah’s novel, then the reason behind us accepting the probability of Misra coincidentally finding Askar is because it is the only coincidence presented to us in Part I of the novel. In this way, the plot of Maps does not seem too unrealistic or improbable to us.

“The frequency of coincidence in fictional plots varies with genre as well as period, and is related to how much the writer feels he can ‘get away with’ in this respect…audiences of comedy will accept an improbable coincidence for the sake of the fun it generates.”

Farah’s novel is most definitely not a comedy. The more serious tone this novel attains can be seen as a justification as to why Farah does not choose to include more coincidences in his novel. Adding too much of this feature in a novel that is not considered a “fun” or “light” read, can be off-putting. Farah understands this implication and therefore does not over-do it with this literary aspect.

“If it works in narrative terms it is because certain clues have been planted earlier in the text…thus skepticism about a coincidence is deflected by satisfactorily solving an enigma…and also by putting emphasis on [Robyn’s] successful intervention rather than on her perception of the coincidence.”

Farah does not give us the chance to take in any hints about the coincidence of Misra finding Askar, simply because this coincidence is placed so early on in the plot (In the first pages of the first chapter). However, Farah does avoid skepticism of the coincidence by placing emphasis on the aftermath of the coincidence rather than the event itself. In this way, Farah not only successfully provides the reader with a probable coincidence, but he also makes it nearly impossible for the reader to understand the plot without knowing of this coincidental event in the first place.


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