An exam question, re-sit

Continue the extract as a piece of imaginative, discursive or persuasive writing that evokes a particular emotional response in the reader.

Twice before, a book had turned him inside out and altered who he was, had blasted apart his assumptions about the world and thrust him onto a new ground where everything in the world suddenly looked different — and would remain different for the rest of time, for as long as he himself went on living in time and occupied space in the world. (Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1)


‘Very interesting, Mr Auster,’ the chairman said. ‘And an excellent start to your rehabilitation, I think.’ He beamed at Auster, who sat nervously on the plain hard chair at a great distance from the panel. His paragraph glared at him from a screen over the three doctors’ heads.

‘If I could begin?’ the chairman said, looking at his two colleagues. They nodded and he faced Auster again, sitting pale-faced in the patient’s chair. ‘Here is our problem. This Auster-on-paper whom you claim is the ‘real’ you, the true and authentic Paul Auster – far more the real man than the flesh and blood creature sitting before us – what does he suffer from and how can we help him?’

Auster blinked and nodded, licking his lips in case he was called to speak. Having read his extract aloud he felt exhausted. He hoped it would prove helpful in his treatment.

‘Now, it seems that the paper Auster wants to tell us that his illness has been caused by three great shocks. Psychic shocks presented in the form of books he’s read and which have communicated some falsehood in his view of the world.’

Auster nodded again. He recalled the first book – his first attack – and felt the tears start up.

‘But,’ the lady on the chairman’s right continued kindly – so kindly that Auster wanted to weep and crawl over to her, to bury his face in her kind, kind lap and let her mother him until he felt better, ‘but really the problem begins a little further back the chain. Let’s look more closely at this passage, Paul. Would you like to do that?’

‘Yes—’ he mumbled, his teary-wet mouth wrapping itself around the word. ‘Oh, yes.’

‘Well,’ she said, ‘someone who has been turned inside out – you poor soul, it must have felt dreadful. Absolutely horrid! Someone like that has been completely altered from the normal, haven’t they?’

Recalling it, Auster nodded vociferously. At last, someone understood. Someone sympathized.

‘But you don’t need to say that they’re altered, do you?’ she said, a little reprovingly. ‘You’ve already said they’ve been turned inside out. So we could remove one or the other. Half the sentence.’

He saw what she meant and blushed. On the screen overhead she deftly deleted half the sentence.

‘We’ve got a similar problem with the next bit,’ said the man on the chairman’s other side. ‘I mean, if you’ve had your assumptions blasted apart, then evidently, the blast wave has moved you to new ground, eh? And if you change place, well – things naturally look different, don’t they?’

‘That’s true,’ said Auster, beginning to feel more hopeful.

‘So we could probably get rid of the stuff after the blasting bit.’ It was deleted.

Blasting – it’s a bit hyperbolic, isn’t it? I mean, you’ve had the benefit of a modern education. Critical thought and all that. You shouldn’t have had any assumptions so sturdy that they needed blasting. Might get rid of that too, eh?’

Auster shook his head in shame. He had known that the treatment was hard at the Derrida clinic, but this was…no, he shook it away. These people were professionals. They cared. They cared for him.

‘As for the last part,’ the lady resumed, ‘we’ve dealt with your hyperbole and redundancy in one place and they break out in another.’ She wagged a finger at him. She was beautiful, Auster thought dreamily. If he could imagine an ideal reader, she would be it. ‘How do you live, except in time and space?’

There was a dreadful, mortifying silence. Auster shook his head again and looked at his knees.

‘Shall we…?’

He burst into tears and covered his face with his hands. ‘Cut it,’ he said through his fingers. ‘Cut it all.’

When he looked up, sniffing, the text on the overhead screen read only Twice before, a book. Three faces looked at him with parental concern.

‘Much better, I think, Mr Auster,’ the chairman said. His voice seemed to come from a long way away. ‘We’ve solved the problem of your shock. And into the bargain we’ve solved the problem of you, too. A sentence needs a subject, and an author only exists as the writing subject. We’ve excised the word and the voice behind it, haven’t we?’

But Auster was no longer there.


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