'Nothing had changed': The Representation of Reality in Michel Faber’s “Fish”

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In Michel Faber’s 1996 story, ‘Fish’, we are presented with a seemingly ‘surreal’ and ‘futuristic world’ (www.michelfaber.com) in which marine animals swim through the air and human civilisation has all but collapsed. As such, we might expect ‘Fish’ to be an example of what is sometimes referred to as non-mimetic fiction – i.e. a story from a genre such as fantasy and science fiction which is not intended to be a representation (or mimesis) of ‘ordinary’ reality. However, realism can be a deceptively elusive term (see, for example, Terry Eagleton’s LRB review of the 2003 reprint of Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis), and on closer inspection ‘Fish’ appears to bring into question our expectations of the ordinary or normal. Janet, the adult protagonist and narrative point of view in the story, remembers a time before, and is thus in an analogous position to that of the reader (i.e. she is trying to make sense of a world in which sense seemingly no longer applies). Janet’s daughter, Kif Kif, on the other hand, knows no other world: for her, the world of ‘Fish’ is all there has ever been. While this might indicate that ‘Fish’ is located in the genre of science fiction, two small details in the story suggest that there is something else going on as well. The first of these is the revelation at the end of the story that Kif Kif finds the fish ‘amazing’ and that her ‘nightmares [are] about other stuff’. Why doesn’t Kif Kif have nightmares about the fish? The second is Kif Kif’s name: ‘kif’ (‘the same’) is Algerian in origin, and it has passed into common usage in France via the phrase ‘c’est kif-kif’ – ‘it’s all the same’, ‘it doesn’t make any difference’. Why is she called Kif Kif? And what else is the story not telling us, and why? This paper will look into these questions to consider the extent to which ‘Fish’ appears to be both operating within but also working against (or ‘defying’) the genre of ‘science fiction’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMichel Faber: Critical Essays
Subtitle of host publicationContemporary Writers: Critical Essays No. 9
EditorsKristin Lindfield-Ott, Rebecca Langworthy, Jim MacPherson
Place of PublicationCanterbury
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-78024-098-5
ISBN (Print)978-1-78024-096-1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2020

Publication series

NameGylphi Contemporary Writers: Critical Essays


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