Daniel Lowe on why we need stories

09 May 2017

All That's Left To Tell, the debut novel by Daniel Lowe, celebrates second chances and the stories we tell to make sense of ourselves. Here, Daniel writes on why we will always need the power of stories. 

At the end of Frank O’Connor’s great short story “Guests of the Nation,” when the motley collection of IRA fighters has executed the British hostages they’d befriended, and they’ve left behind “the little patch of bog with the two Englishmen stiffening into it,” Bonaparte, the narrator, confronts the magnitude of what they’ve done, and says, “…the birds and the bloody stars were all far away, and I was somehow very small and lonely. And anything that ever happened to me after I never felt the same about again.” 

This is what I want from a story, and what I like to believe we all want from our stories, whether we are readers, writers or listeners around a campfire, whether we are telling jokes, spinning yarns, or narrating the underpinnings of a tragedy: that the story is not merely unforgettable, but intractable, that it is less like breath and more like bone. We are founded on stories, and, no matter how remote or distant or strange the inhabitants of other lands (and, were it to come to that, other worlds), in and outside of time, we moor ourselves in their tales and histories. 

And, it must be said, we arm ourselves with our own. How many battle cries begin with the word “Remember,” how many have died fighting for what we sometimes call a cause, but might more accurately call a story, whether our own, our family’s, our state’s, our faith’s? Human history (and dystopian fiction) is replete with regimes whose principal form of oppression is the obliteration of a people’s stories, on through the present day. 

Stories of triumph, stories of grief have the prospect of creating enormous constructive and destructive forces. How we meet and come to understand them, how we form them, shapes our fate, and this is certainly true of the characters in All That’s Left to Tell. Marc and Josephine seek to inhabit each other’s stories for both comfort and control in dire circumstances, and neither is entirely successful. But it is our capacity and willingness to enter the stories of others that may save us from ourselves.

And maybe we can’t save us from ourselves. So let’s say, after everything, at the end of time, there is a last one. She is a nameless woman in a final hour, with a predator outside her door, and inside she is alone except for the great and deafening indifference of the universe.  She recognizes the futility of a weapon or shield even if she had one. But she recalls a time when her child woke from a nightmare and she soothed her with the tale of Hansel and Gretel, where the clever brother and sister escape the witch’s oven. She might wish for a similar escape from this room, from this story of her last arrival. Or she may wish for an opportunity to retell every fable she told that beautiful child, even every story of her own life, though she knows none will be forthcoming. Because they mattered. For a while, and especially now, they mattered terribly. 

Daniel Lowe

All That's Left to Tell

All That's Left to Tell

What if you had the chance to re-imagine your past?

Every night, Marc Laurent, an American taken hostage in Pakistan, is bound and blindfolded. And every night, a woman he knows only as Josephine comes to visit him. At first, her questions are mercenary: who will pay for his release? But when Marc can offer no name, she asks him an even more difficult question: why didn't he go home for his daughter's funeral?

So begins a strange and yet comforting nightly ritual. Josephine tells Marc stories about what might have happened had Claire not been murdered. In turn, Marc begins to tell his own, in which his daughter is still alive. Soon, neither Marc nor Josephine are sure which stories are true and which are imagined, or even if it matters. 

Out now in Hardback and as an Ebook. 

Read extract