Thursday, 20 October 2011

Oh The Humanity

*Warning: Contains Disturbing Content.  And Much Angst.*

Today, I was listening to a podcast “Genres in Children’s Literature - Dealing with Social Issues in Realistic Fiction” (by La Trobe University) and it was talking about defining limits for Children’s Fiction, in relation to their emotional maturity. 

The podcast was quite timely for me, due to the book I’m reading at the moment (Micka, by Frances Kay).  I’m starting to think there should be defining limits for adults too!

I’m so traumatised.  I’m only half way through the book and stumbled across a scene where my 10 year old protagonist is raped by his big brother.  There was no previous build up to allude to this happening or anything (although I doubt that would even have softened the blow) and I know I sound oversensitive here, but it’s bloody affected me. 

If I’d known it was going to contain such disturbing scenes, I wouldn’t have taken it out of the library.  I know all the supermarket shelves are stocked high with books centred round child abuse (why is it so popular?), but it’s just not my bag at all.  Am I destined to remain unsubscribed to any specific genre (all you Harry Potter fans know what I’m talking about)?

My love of books stem from the ability to be absorbed in someone else’s world.  I do like dark storylines, and even intend on writing one for my NaNoWriMo novel, but this crosses my personal threshold. :(

The podcast talks about “Vicarious Experience”, where you feel the real emotion from the story.  I certainly don't claim to be suffering the despair that would befall a victim of child abuse.  I’m certainly in a state of anguish, however, 'cos I know this sort of bile goes on in the real world and my wee brain can’t comprehend it.  I hate this pishy world sometimes. 
I'm not taking anything away from the writing talent, neither am I writing a book review.  Of course, I need to finish the book.  I’m reluctantly gripped, and will only be satisfied with the story as a whole, if it ends with the big brother being slowly castrated, dying a slow and painful death (although it still wouldn't be enough retribution).

What are your boundaries?  Anyone else think there should be some kind of forewarning on books with such disturbing content?

On a happier note (I think), here is a brief synopsis of my NaNoWriMo novel, titled The Caretaker. :)
When a car crash leaves Harry crippled and his mistress dead, his previously idyllic world collapses around him.

He seeks forgiveness from his devastated wife, Wendy, who agrees to give up her teaching job to take care of him. Can she bring herself to trust him again? Or does she succumb to the advances of the school's Caretaker; so desperate to be someone's first choice again?

The mistress haunts them both, in more ways than one.

Experience the turmoil of both sides of the coin, in this tragic tale about the fragility of trust.



Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where my personal boundaries are but overdone descriptions of cruelty make me sick. In fiction, sometimes you need to do the equivalent of fade to black; it's often much more evocative than blow by blow.
That said, I did write a novel where the hero(a term I prefer to main character) is flogged and then crucified. It was entirely needed for the plot etc but I felt that in some senses his fear of worse was probably the most disturbing aspect of the whole scene; I also avoided overdoing the (excuse me, no pun intended here) blow by blow account of the flogging and I used the starkest possible language for the crucifixion to avoid wallowing in it.
That said, the book you are reading sounds truly gratuitously horrifying.

Holly said...

I remember a few years ago I read a book where one of the characters was raped and killed. The scene still haunts me to this day, and it was one of the most horrific things I've read. I can't remember much to know if there was enough forewarning for me to lessen the shock. I also found out this book was made into a movie, which I have no desire to watch.

Your novel sounds highly interesting! Best of luck with your writing this November.

matt (inflatableink) said...

This is an interesting question. I don't know where the boundary lies. I'm not sure there is one, but I do like to know what I'm getting into as a reader so I can steel myself.

It happens I'm writing a short story with abuse at its heart right now. After some thought I chose to omit the act altogether, and in fact to remove anything but the most oblique reference to the subject, so that it becomes the silent heart of the piece.

That was more about exploring a technique (the hidden story the reader must tell in response to the literal story at the surface) than protecting anyone's sensibilities.

On the other hand, that's one scene I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable writing -- so maybe I'm justifying my own cowardice.

In any case, thoughtful post!

Catherine Noble said...

Well, I finished it. It was a pretty unsatisfactory ending for me, but I'm sure I wont forget the book in a hurry. If that's what Frances Kay was trying to achieve, then Bravo. I'd personally prefer my readers to gleam a bit of positivity/satisfaction from my novels, but everyone has different motives I suppose.

@zenandtheheartoftightropewalking (love the name btw): I agree. Sometimes less is more when it comes to a harrowing scene. At least you can work with the confines of the safety of your own imagination and boundaries therein! Your novel sounds very intriguing! I like the fact your hero has that "fear of worse", as I completely subscribe to the belief there is nothing to fear, but fear itself!

@Holly: Thank you very much! :) It's horrible, isn't it? I feel like my comfort zone has been violated somehow, although it's the risk you have to take when entering the world of fiction, I suppose.

@Matt: Do you know something, I think the oblique reference will be ten times more powerful than any graphic, "shock-factor" scene. I'd love to learn more about that technique for my own writing. Consider me a fellow coward, and happy to accept such a title, if doing so means nobody will get traumatised by my novel! I'm glad you found my post thoughtful! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Catherine,
the fact that the character feared worse(rape? murder?) did indeed add to his anguish both before and after, but it also deepened the sense of relief when it was over as well as heightening the continued fear when the perps were not caught.
This is the middle novel in a series of three( so far) and I hope to have the first released before too long.
Sometimes fear is worse than reality, but not always.

Panda Smith said...

I will openly admit here that I like scenes like that.

Let me explain; It's not that I actually LIKE scenes like that, god no, nobody in their right mind would actually LIKE reading about rape or torture or abuse or anything like that. It's not a case of not being able to use my imagination either, and I completely agree that sometimes it's what ISN'T written that hits the hardest to the reader. But I think scenes like that DO have a place in literature, and I think if it's genuinely going to add to the feel or speed of the novel, then it's a good addition.

A lot of the novels I read are about abuse in some form. The latest, for example, was Kiss It Away by Carol Anne Davis. In it is an extremely brutal scene where a man is raped by another man. There's everything from exactly what is going on, to dialogue. And I don't mean nice flitty happy dialogue, I mean.. the kind of dialogue that a rapist would actually use. I'll say that much. And when I say "exactly what is going on", I mean just that. Every detail right down to how the victim PHYSICALLY feels at that point.

It's brutal. It's gruesome. It's shocking. And I genuinely think it added to the severity of the scene. If the author had written it in a "Ben decided to walk through the park but there was a man there and he mugged Ben then he told him to take his jeans off and Ben knew what was coming next" -Next Chapter- "Ben sobbed in the shower scrubbing at his aching skin" ... I don't think that has the same effect.

I'm rambling, I know, but I'd like to bring a different viewpoint to your blog post. I'm not arguing against you, God no, everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respect yours, but sometimes, shocking scenes like this and like the one you read add to the novel because they do exactly what you didn't like it for; they remind the reader that this could ACTUALLY HAPPEN. It brings shock and fear to the reader at how realistic and life-like it is, that it could happen to them, it could be happening right now, who knows? It's shocked, and it gets the reader thinking, greatly, about life, and that's why I like scenes like that - because they make me use my brain and think about something.

Sure it's not everyone's cup of tea. A lot of people prefer not to think about what goes on the world, "bury their heads in the sand" so to speak. I don't like doing that. As morbid as it sounds, I like thinking about what's going on in the world, the evil of human beings. I will spend days asking myself "What would make someone do something like that to someone else?" - I love things like that.

As I said though, it's not everyone's cup of tea, I'm aware of that, fully. I just thought I'd bring my view to the surface as well. :)

Catherine Noble said...

@zenandtheartoftightropewalking Good Luck with your series, Viv! I'll keep my eyes peeled for the release! :D

@Panda Smith - Yaay thanks for your mammoth comment! :) I enjoyed reading your point of view; I'm sure there's plenty who agree with you and like reading scenes like that too. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all, I'd just have preferred some kind of warning beforehand, 'cos I'm a major wimp who gets oversensitive to things and despairs of humanity on a regular basis. :p

I've recovered from my "ordeal" haha and know I've been a tad theatrical about it, but it did get me thinking: you get warnings before disturbing TV programs, and you get age restrictions on films to protect children from upsetting scenes etc. I suppose it would be a bit of a spoiler to write "WARNING: Contains child rape scene" in a book, but I'd definitely have appreciated it!

The thing is, the scene wasn't even the most graphic I've ever read. It's just the whole forcing an issue in my face that no amount of campaigning or law bills will ever eradicate, sadly. That sounds defeatist, but it's the sad truth; too tragic to comprehend.

I like books with troubled characters to overcome things and deal with their issues, sort of as their reward for going through the trauma and as a reason for putting the reader through the traumatic journey. This book didn't have a happy ending at all, nor was there any real justice or resolution.

I'd love to stick my head in the sand and escape from reality haha! I envy people who plod along in a bubble of ignorance, I really do. I suppose reading, for me, is a nice way to escape the harsh realites, so I like to read within my own comfort zone.

I know I should probably get a thicker skin, but I don't mind being an emotional wreck when it comes to reading; I have to wear a thick skin everywhere else, so I'm ok with that.

Thanks again for writing such a detailed reply! :)

Daniel Swensen said...

I went through this years ago with Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series, only it was the protagonist doing the raping. He meets this young girl, she sympathizes with him, they have a nice chat, and suddenly... yeah. Donaldson, by his own admission, was trying to subvert the standard fantasy / heroic tropes (and I guess he succeeded), but as a young reader it blindsided me. I put the book away, and it took me a long time to even return to the series.

I find myself torn about this issue. On one hand, I think it can be a powerful storytelling tool if handled with integrity. On the other, I think rape in particular is frequently overused as a means to bring cheap and easy shock to a story, and I wish more writers would think twice before casually bringing it to the table.

Anna Scott Graham said...

Like you, I would be majorly turned off by such an unanticipated scene. I write plenty of angsty hoo haa, but, big breath taken, the harming of children is where I draw the line. Some sort of, well, not warning, but jeez, notice, line in the synopsis (and I like yours very much!) would have been extremely handy. Alas, you were knocked for more than one loop!

Thanks for stopping by the blog; as soon as finish this cup of tea, the editing will again commence. Good luck with NaNo; as I saw at the top of the preceding blog entry, it does pull you right back in! (A big Godfather fan, I appreciate an Al Pacino/Michael Corleone quote wherever I find it!)

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