“As the secrets and lies unfolded, I got caught up in both the storyline and the experience. I say the experience because the author manages to evoke the feelings of tension and release that occur with suppression and catharsis.” (Alexandra Dodgson-Liosatos)
I’m having a particularly lovely time at the moment, hearing from people who enjoyed reading Honor’s Shadow over the Christmas holidays, and have written to tell me of their experiences.
What strikes me most is the variety of views readers have, as they focus on very different elements of the story. I suppose all works of art serve as a screen upon which people can project their own needs, hopes and desires, but I have been especially satisfied to see how Honor’s Shadow does that, as I deliberately set out to write a psychological drama which might operate on several levels of the readers consciousness.
The story is essentially about the emotional agony of betrayal in love relationships, the natural impulse for revenge, and the superhuman demands to control that impulse in order to avert real disaster of the kind we read about in the press on a daily basis. In other words, how to be psychologically mature in the face of emotionally shattering events; and how insights from ancient wisdom can help us to find that maturity and regain some control. Yet even this most conceptual intention has not always necessarily been seen as the topic of the novel.
“It’s all about mothers and daughters” “It’s about different versions of womanhood”
are two examples of a different interpretation of the central theme of the book.
Perhaps, given my intention, one of the most satisfying reader comments is the one quoted above: defining the novel as an experience. I have been delighted to have so many readers express something similar:
“I couldn’t put it down – I stayed up all night to finish it”
“The tension was almost unbearable – it made me cry”
“It was a bit like being a horrified bystander watching a slow-motion car crash, as Honor did and said more and more things which I felt more and more alarmed by”
“I got through as much as I could in one sitting – then got up early and finished it before breakfast. Was holding my breath much of the time and a few tears! I really cared about the characters and was kept guessing right to the end…”
I have read numerous novels that are experiences in this emotionally charged way. And I have also read many books that were quite enjoyable, but without that level of engagement, and which I had forgotten within a few hours of finishing them.
Before Xmas I went to see the film We Need to Talk About Kevin based on a book that I found powerful and unforgettable as it tackled a taboo subject (failures of love between parent and child) in a profound and believable way. So I watched the film knowing that it was an imaginary story, and how it would end. In one scene, Eva, deranged by sleep deprivation, is with her crying baby Kevin, holding him out in front of her, looking at him, at a loss as to what to do. I had to control my impulse to lean forward and call out to the screen: “hold him close! He needs to be close to you; cuddle him, for God’s sake” as if I could avert disaster with my advice. The story seemed so totally real, that I felt I might be able to change the course of fictional events if I could just get her to listen to me.
What is it that makes some novels an emotional roller-coaster experience, rather than just a reasonably good read that never evokes laughter or tears, fear or joy? The build up of tension seems to be a strong element, along with at least one character that you care about.
I’d love to hear of any books you’ve read that fall into the “novel experience” category… maybe we could develop a book list based on that distinction! Suggestions please…? comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.