Considering Abuse

I’m not sure I wanted to blog about this, but it has been running around in my mind for a few weeks and I wanted to get it down. I recently read a book which contained a considerable section of abuse in it. You knew as a reader that it happened (although I was surprised by the plot twist) and then later it was explicitly described.

I’m going to be honest, I read it without realising what I was reading until it was too late, and almost broke down in tears. I spent the rest of the day battling in my mind to keep the images out and felt very sick.

Now I’m not here to rant on the internet about something I could just deal with in private or go direct to the author. In fact, I’m not sure it’s my right to bring up anything with the author, but it made me think, I mean it really made me think. Some friends I spoke to said, “Didn’t you read reviews before you read the book?” Yep, that would’ve been helpful, but I didn’t because I was afraid of reading spoilers. I can’t bring myself to read a book I already know the ending to. Now I wish I had.

I just wanted to talk about some of the things it highlighted for me. Personally, I’ve realised through some good friend’s conversation, that it’s good to focus on the good and the edifying in this world, rather than glory in the terrible things. I want books to be escapism for me, that’s a personal choice, but that is not desiring ignorance. I want to know what’s going on, well, sometimes I would rather not read the news but I do, however, I don’t want to glory in fictionalised versions of the things in life which horrify, which damage and which cause pain. It’s a personal choice. I think the thing that really upset me, was that my personal choice was taken away.

If a writer thinks that explicit descriptions of abuse are essential for their storyline and character development, I’m not here to argue in a public space, but what I would appreciate would be some kind of indication that the book is going to include it. From the blurb and all the information I’d read about the book I had no idea it would contain anything like that. Is that fair? Shouldn’t I, and everyone else, be given a choice? That’s why films have age certificates, not just so parents can decide what their children watch or cinema’s can police recipients of their content, but so ordinary people can decide if they want to watch something. I’m not arguing against free-speech, that’s a whole debate I’m unqualified to start, but I am asking for a choice.

It’s sad for me to realise that I now have to read reviews very carefully before I even buy a book to read. Is that naïve? Maybe. Maybe I just wish that when I pick up something to read, something which I can enjoy the words of, that I can get involved with the characters lives, that I won’t be blind-sided by something I didn’t sign up for. I feel like sometimes people look at me funny when I say I can’t watch a certain type of movie or TV series because the storyline is too dark, because the events in it would give me nightmares. I’m a grown woman but I can still get nightmares. There are horrible things in this world, and it’s worrying that people’s sensitivity is numbing.

A really good friend of mine once said to me that some author’s mistakenly assume that abuse-victim characters can be sorted out in 80,000 words. She told me that it was trivialising what they had been through and insulting their journey. I think for the first time I understand what she means – at least in part. I’m not saying that abuse cannot feature in books, so don’t read what I’m not writing, my heroine in The Widow’s Redeemer had suffered physical abuse when the book starts. But authors have a duty to their readers to take these things seriously, to give them due attention and not use them as a quick-fix to give a moody hero a reason for brooding without understanding and considering the real repercussions of it. I guess no one can fully capture emotions and things in life, maybe that’s why writers continue to write and hone their craft, to get closer and closer to truth.

Is there a chance in this pursuit that authors can forget the affect they have on their readers? What I thought after I read the book was, “What if someone who had suffered that read it? What would they think about the description? What would they think about the fact the character appears cured of any after-effects after an intense conversation with someone?” I don’t know, but it definitely made me wonder these things.

It’s been weighing on me, and from looking back over this blog post, I’m not sure I’ve come to any bright light-bulb moments. I guess I wish I had had a choice. And I wish authors (including myself) would really think about the necessity of explicitness, the consideration they give to characters who suffer abuse in their books, and the realisation that what they are writing affects more than them.

I’m turning off the comments on this post because I’m not trying to start a debate, I’m trying to express how I felt.

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