William Fiennes does an amazing thing in The Music Room. He tells stories, clearly his memories, and brings them into the present.
Fiennes begins each anecdote in the past tense, the decidedly proper tense for a memoir. After only a sentence or two, the anecdote shifts to the present tense.
For my parents those film-crew days were a mixed blessing. The house needed the money but they watched anxiously as strangers lugged sharp-cornered gear through medieval doorways and leaned spiky lighting rigs against Tudor panelling. Dad haunts the sets like the house’s guardian spirit, vigilant for carelessness. It’s as if his nervous system spreads through the whole building, so that a slammed door or a pewter bowl set down too briskly hurts him as keenly as a cut on the arm. (14)
The first time I read this type of shift, I actually stopped reading. Normally I hate being taken out of a book, out of the moment, the present that is the story I am reading, but I will gladly be yanked back to reality by some impressive use of language.
I think I might have smiled, chuckled a bit, before rereading the first instance, a moment on page eleven about actors on the set that was Fiennes’ home.
It keeps happening, more instances of fluid movement between the past and present. It is fluid because Fiennes just does it. I’m not sure how fluid it is since I notice it every time but maybe by the end of the book I won’t notice it anymore.
Unless I’m supposed to notice. That’s an intriguing idea. Maybe there is a purposeful point to the memories that transition into present tense versus the memories that remain in the past.
I don’t want to make a list as I read the book but I plan on keeping my eye on any patterns that emerge.
Is Fiennes aware of his shifting tenses?
Are the present tense anecdotes the memories that bubble to the surface easier?