On an initial reading The Hidden Bend may appear disconnected. There is one narrative followed by a different character who has no obvious connection with the previous one. This form might seem experimental, though it is not, not even as experimental narrative.
To a large degree it depends on the reading; that is, how each character story appeals and are understood. The story of Nastasiya seemed the strongest, or rather, the most empathetic, while the other two could be jettisoned because they had little bearing on Nastasiya which, after all, is tragic. If that was done the result would be simple, effective, but possibly too modest, even monotonous.
As I discovered not long ago Case Histories by Kate Atkinson is made from a similar mold: through character, a detective story are pieced together into a structure and it works extremely well.
Classic novels do this in the parallel story which plays against the feature. Count Vronsky and Anna Karenina compared with Konstantin Levin and Princess Katerina, “Kitty”. There is, (to the best of my memory as it’s some years since I read the novel), little or no contact between these two couples. Levin and Kitty, who, like the other characters, are aware of the gossip surrounding Anna, but that is all.
Over seventy years ago Faulkner made a similar turn with Wild Palms, If I forget thee, Jerusalem. There are two unconnected tales: one is a passionate romance; the other, an adventure of a convict who escapes and rescues a pregnant woman in the great Mississippi flood of 1927. It’s possible to read this novel three ways: as a wild romance, as an adventure, or as Faulkner said combined, in that together there is a different and resonant understanding made from one story to the other. The thread between the two is made poignant at the end when the convict’s curse acts like a backward echo to Harry Wilbourne’s ultimate fate.
In The Hidden Bend, if the story of the soldier is perceived as central, then the others may be interpreted as refracting elements of that story. The English businessman’s tale is light by comparison, but a reader may connect with it and see the other two, the mother and the soldier, in relation to it. Comparing one character with another may produce a greater sense of what the whole is.
©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.