I like reading what other people perceive as “harsh” authors, guys like Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk and one of my favourite books is We Need to Talk About Kevin, a book many people couldn’t stomach because of its gun violence in a school. Notwithstanding the very real pain that people must feel reading about something identical to an experience in real life, I’ve never bought into the idea that I am more or less affected by things in books because I am slightly closer to the situation than other people. For instance, I have a child but I don’t believe for one minute that I’m more sensitive to kids dying in books than someone who has never had them. I have never been a victim of murder but I don’t believe you need to be, to appreciate how gruesome it can be or to empathise with the survivors.
My first book, The Sham, was a thriller. Lots of readers told me they couldn’t get past the first scene, which I didn’t think was that gruesome when I wrote it, but evidently affected people in a way they couldn’t cope with (mostly because of the cruelty upon a child and a bird, both of which were based on incidents that did happen in real life) . It got me thinking about whether anything is sacrosanct. I read an article in The Guardian recently about how readers found the fictional romance between a Nazi camp guard and a Jewish inmate in For Such a Time, “shocking and offensive” and campaigned for it to be delisted for two Romance Writers of America awards. Angelina Jolie received the same response for her love story set during the Bosnian war between a Serbian guard and a Bosnian woman in In the Land of Blood and Honey, but isn’t that the point of books? That they help us imagine things, to feel things, that we don’t need to experience in real life?
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