Mary Hoffman on David

I’m glad Mary Hoffman knew. But then she is the kind of woman who would know how she intends to write her next novel. She’s popped in today to let us know why David simply had to be written in the first person. It’s not the easiest of points-of-view to pick, but if Mary knows, she knows. And it works.

So here she is with her thoughts on being inside the head of Gabriele, that very beautiful young man whose nude body we have all ogled. More than once.

‘Why first person narrator?

With every novel I write, I know what person and what tense it’s going to be composed in – even when I know very little else about it – and I knew before I had committed a word of David to my computer that this one had to be in the voice of Gabriele. It is his story and he is telling it to us. 

It begins with the words, “My brother died last month,” which lead us directly into the ‘now’ of Gabriele. But he’s an old man himself at this point, looking back on the ‘then’ of his three and a half years in Florence when he became the best-known face in the city.

Almost all the adventures of his long life were packed into that short space of time and they were so intense that he remembers them vividly – even after sixty years. Friendship, love, lust, art and politics all came to a head in that period while he was posing and the working for his ‘brother’ Michelangelo. Some adventures he brought upon himself, others just happened to him – or appeared to.

Putting the whole of the flashback story – which is the bulk of the novel – into Gabriele’s own voice gives it a vividness that a third person narrative would have lacked. He takes us into the midst of his amorous complications, which start the minute he leaves his home village of Settignano and arrives in Florence. And he understands so little of the political situation in the city and of its recent history, that we see him learning how to handle himself well enough with all the factions that he becomes a trusted member of two of them – a double agent.

There is rivalry between artists as well as between political groupings and we see Michelangelo and Leonardo and their relationship afresh through the eyes of this younger contemporary. Gabriele is not just the cause of great art in others; he is an appreciator of all the beauty around him in that fine city at the very beginning of the sixteenth century. His own halting views about what art can do and what it is for, as expressed in his own voice are an important part of the story.

But he does not like being appraised as a work of art himself. Beautiful as he is, he is still a work of nature and bound like all works of nature to age and die. It is the representation of him that will live another six hundred years to continue to astound us. And as he grasps these facts, in his own hesitant way, he and I must use that voice to express his thoughts and hopes.’


3 responses to “Mary Hoffman on David

  1. Great post, Mary. And it’s really whetted my appetite for ‘David’. I totally agree about the first person voice – when it works it has such an impact on the reader. I do envy you your certainty – always knowing what voice to use before you start. I’ve had the experience of starting in first person, doubting it, trying out third and then going back to first. I think, though I’m not sure, that third is easier…

  2. I’m no sure ‘whetted appetite’ is best used in connection with David, Jane. Could give people ideas…

  3. Hmm yes, indeed! I have to admit I smiled when Mary wrote ‘when he became the best-known face in the city’….!

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