A Novel: The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break


I’m reading The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break again. First published in 2000. This edition by Canongate Books of the UK.

This novel is a great illustration of the Closed System of Belief concept in an speculative fiction story for adult readers, set in the present, even though it is marketed as main stream literature.

In a Closed System of Belief the fantastical elements are part of the scenery and are normal in the world of the story. There are no Points of Disbelief, as in an Open System, where characters must face the reality of the particular magic or unbelievable logic and either accept or reject it. Where reasons have to be invented for both.

I had been hitting that problem for a while in my present work-in-progress without being able to figure out how to express it to be able to talk about it. I thank Scott Westerfeld for this explanation from his blog.

For speculative fiction writers The Minotaur it is a terrific study in how to amalgamate an unreal character in the hustle and bustle of normal life.

All the human characters accept the Minotaur as just another inarticulate and socially inept person. There are no Points of Disbelief in this story, despite the Minotaur’s obvious shape differences or the way he must live as a result. His coping mechanisms are described sympathetically but completely as normal.

When you think about the bull in the china shop you can begin to imagine what kind of hurdles the Minotaur faces in his every day job as a line cook in a place called Grub’s Rib, somewhere in the American South. Ethical considerations among the rest of the staff see the Minotaur taken from the barbecued rib server.

Though his vision is still sharp after five thousand years, his sight is a problem. ‘…the bridge of his nose, a black bony expanse lying between wide-sat eyes. It creates a blind spot for which the Minotaur compensates by cocking his head a little to one side or the other, depending on what he is looking at.’ But he misjudges sometimes. Melted butter spills into the stove.

Also after five thousand years, he’s lost his cannibalistic tendencies and there can be true love for him. A happy ending then becomes possible, if quirky.

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