Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What, no sex?

“How much of your character's political and religious belief do you put in a book or do you shy away from those topics?” was the question and it’s a good one.  What’s amazing is how quickly that question – whenever it’s asked – becomes “How much of your political ideology and religious fervour should you cram down a reader’s throat like a shift-worker on a foie-gras-goose farm?” 

As I pointed out, commenting on Reece’s posting on Monday (before I realised I should keep my mouth shut so’s I’d have something to say on Thursday), no one ever thinks having a character kill their entire family with a nutmeg grater is a suggestion for how readers should live their real lives.

Well, anyway, I've got it easy. Dandy Gilver’s political beliefs – the unthinking Toryism of the Brtish upper class in the 1920s – and her religious beliefs – the unthinking  high-church Christianity of the British upper class in the 1920s – are not mine to cram.

Not everyone gets that, mind you.  In pre-facebook days, once or twice a reading group or lunch club invited that delightful Dandy Gilver’s fragrant creator to speak and were horrified to have the likes of me roll up.

And once I was accused of being an apologist for social stratification because I write about “toffs coming along and solving the problems of the plebs.”  Needless to say my accuser hadn’t read any of my books.

To tell the truth, drip-drip-drip bias in fiction bothers me as much as it did that angry if uninformed class-warrior.  Three examples:

In Enid Blyton, the rich kids were always taller, stronger and braver than Edgar the cook’s son, who always snivelled and went to pieces at the first whiff of danger.  Also they were clean-limbed.  What does that even mean?  What would someone look like who was dirty-limbed?

I had to stop reading Jonathon Kellerman’s The Butcher’s Theatre because all the Israelis were tall, strong and brave (and probably clean-limbed too) and all the Palestinians were low-down cheating scalliwags.   Who smelled bad – yes, really. 

Every week when the X-Files was on I’d think: “Come on.  Just once.  Let the scientific explanation be right.  Just one week and then back to all the spookety-woo next time.”  Not one single time did Scully ever carry the day for reason, though.  In this case, I watched every episode in every season, just to make sure.

So, in conclusion, politics and relgious belief are just another part of a character’s make-up to me and if they’re key they need to be depicted with the same reckless devotion to the demands of the story as everything else.  But when an author builds a world, you don’t half get a good look at the builder too.


Karen in Ohio said...

Yes, this. Well said, Catriona.

Who the heck cares? Or should care? I read for entertainment, and as long as I'm suspending belief about part of it, I might as well do so for the rest, too. In fiction, cats talk, store clerks stumble upon dead bodies every whipstitch, and the hero just happens to figure things out from thin air. Shrug. It's fiction, after all, and not a recitation of dry, factual events. If I wanted reality I would never read novels.

Your foie gras factory example was responsible for massive coffee spitting. That will teach me. Thanks for the entertainment! So looking forward to your next Dandy adventure.

Meredith Cole said...

Very funny! I luckily was not drinking coffee when I read it so no precious drops were spilled...

Love the photo of you (mopping? redoing the floor?). I think it's so funny when people assume writers will be just like their protag's...

Reece said...

Don't worry about having given away too much in your comments to my post, Catriona. You clearly had plenty of great material left!