So, I have recently finished Half-Blood Blues, a novel by Esi Edugyan that centres around jazz in pre-war Germany. The story is narrated in the first person by Sidney Griffiths, a bass player with an up-and-coming jazz group based in Germany.
The book is interestingly structured, as it is narrated from two different points in time – that late 30’s, as well as the early 90’s, over 50 years later (but still narrated by Sidney) If we adopt the assumption that Sidney is telling his story in the “present”, (or, the 90’s), then it means he is speaking from memory when he narrates the parts set in the 30’s/40’s. Working on this assumption, I noticed something interesting.
When describing a particular place or event, Sidney very often makes a reference to the scents of those things around him – rooms, pieces of furniture, himself, etc. I thought this was interesting and as well, a clever move by the author, because it has been studied and determined before that scent and sense of smell is one of the senses most tied to memory:
Sidney is trying to remember things that happened 50 years ago, and because scent is so closely associated with memory, he is able to describe the smell of a situation, sometimes before the actual events. The use of this device by the writer greatly enhanced the realism of Sidney and his recollections, and I thought it was very well-executed.
(oh, a quick note about the title of this post: in a piece of music, D.S. al Coda means to return to a certain part of the music and play it again, until a symbol indicates to take the coda – the final part of the piece of music. I liken this to Sidney’s situation – he goes back in his memory to a certain part of his past, until he reaches a certain even that brings him back to the present, and the end of his story.)