RRecently, I have been fortunate enough to publish a novel based, in part, on my years as a plumber. After reading it, some of my new literary friends commented, “Ah, so you write in the circadian tradition? I nodded – and dug into a dictionary to find out the meaning of “circadian.” It turns out the word describes the process of going around, of coming back. Books put within 24 hour limits. A day in the life.
I cannot claim that writing such a work was my intention. In seeking to bring the world of manual labor to life – a world not overrepresented in modern fiction – I had found it necessary to focus on the minute and the granular. If we can have police procedures, why can’t we also have plumbing procedures? And quite quickly, this technique of tight focus, super close-up, found itself played out within the characters themselves, and their stories. There is a freedom, after all, to work within limits, and perhaps the most important limit is the time itself. New possibilities of compression are opening up; strange amplification possibilities. There you go, and without really realizing it, I had created a work of circadian fiction.
Why aren’t more writers doing it? It seems common but, in fact, it is not. Here I have put together 10 examples worthy of being measured by the best atomic clock.
1. Ulysses by James Joyce
You can play Cluedo with Ulysses. If it is 11h we must be on the strand with Stephen Dedalus, the color is green and the technique is monologue. If it is 10 pm, we must be at the hospital with Léopold Bloom, the color is white, and the technique “embryonic development”. Etc. Joyce himself said: “I may have systematized Ulysses too much”. But it should be remembered that this book, the number one in circadian novels, perhaps of all novels, also contains some of the finest descriptive passages written in English.
2. Nicholson Baker’s mezzanine
Tightening even more the circadian accent, this story is wrapped, crammed, chased away in a single lunch break. Here, the ingenious device of the extended footnote enlivens the inner life of young office worker Howie. Between fits of “escalatorial happiness” rising towards his workplace, he ruminates on the fraying of laces, the wonders of perforated paper, ice cubes, Marc Aurèle and many other micro-materials. An everyday treasure chest.
3. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
Tommy Wilhelm, a failed actor with wife and dependent children, has decided to invest his last $ 700 in lard. His commodity broker is a shady psychiatrist-speculator, Dr. Tamkin, who wastes no time undermining Tommy with his own wild psychoanalytic theory. It’s one more mistake in a long line for Tommy, but like Sisyphus, he is cursed to repeat his mistakes over and over again.
4. Mrs. Dalloway from Virginia Woolf
Mrs. Dalloway throws a party; it’s over for one day and one night in June. There is an effortless flow here between past, present and future, a sharpness, even a moment of occasional play, which is rare in Woolf’s work. Bird’s-eye views of London become intimate views. Listening abounds – not a rarity. Ms. Dalloway is creating a master of prose at top gear; it is a privilege to be caught in its wake.
5. Under the volcano of Malcolm Lowry
An active volcano looms over a landscape saturated with poverty and sunshine, and Geoffrey Firmin, a consul stranded in Mexico, dies of alcoholism. We know, from the first chapter out of sequence, that it’s not going to end well. Carefully choreographed hour by hour, we follow him on his final and terrible journey towards the violent act that will end his life. It is no coincidence that Lowry chose to place this modernist masterpiece on the Day of the Dead.
6. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
If Geoffrey Firmin has given up on his body, George, Christopher Isherwood’s replacement in this 1964 story of an aging professor teaching literature in California, is taking active steps to curb his own physical decline. He trains in the gym, matching the efforts of the young men next to him. He is such a pretentious old man, George – mourning the death of his lover, but convinced that he is still able to work his magic on almost anyone he meets in his one day. The illusion in George’s heart may not be fully followed by Isherwood, but let’s not underestimate his success. The candid descriptions of homosexual desire made it revolutionary work for the liberation of homosexuals.
7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Written in 1843 and still going strong. No surprise when it comes to looking, once again, the quality of the sentences and the simplicity of the narration. Lively, exuberant, terrifying in places, it is the modern moral tale par excellence. “It should not be talked about or written by ordinary rules,” a contributor to Blackwood magazine said in 1844. If only Charles Dickens were here today to create an equally powerful and popular indictment of the explosion the need for food banks.
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick
From ghosts to androids. “In a way, I’m now the greatest bounty hunter who ever lived,” Rick Deckard muses near the end of this sci-fi classic. “No one has ever removed six Nexus-6 types in a twenty-four hour period and probably no one will ever do so again.” His reward at the end of an almost unbelievably long day? A toad. It is a future Earth where real animals are status symbols. Unfortunately, the toad itself turns out to be a robot. It doesn’t matter that Deckard cares – at that point, he only wants to sleep. Well you see his point. Imagine six consecutive Zoom meetings, and at the end of each you need to end a participant. Wouldn’t you like a nap?
9. A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The prose is as sparse as the food in this daily novel, which rocked Soviet Russia when it was first published in 1962. From the moment of waking up to those happy minutes before sleep, we follow Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, S 854, so let him deal with the all-consuming enterprise of survival in the Stalinist gulag. Intelligent, resourceful, even possessing a sort of hope, Shukhov maneuvers for the slightest advantage without stooping to deceive anyone. Somehow he has retained a certain integrity and he’s quite a convincing figure.
ten. Pincher Martin by William Golding
A drowning sailor runs aground on a rock in the Atlantic. He clings to life, hungry, dehydrated, believing his hands are giant crab claws. Inclusion in the circadian canon is not straightforward, and qualification depends on an enigma. What exactly happens when “Pincher” Martin takes off his sea boots? The end of the twist left critics stumped back then and it’s not easy to understand even now. Essentially, Golding’s argument seems to be that his protagonist dies in the first few pages, and the rest of the book is an afterlife, conjured up by an ego facing its last desperate hours on Earth on the same first day. . Welcome to the canon, Pincher Martin?