Sunday, 7 July 2013

Walking on the (literary) dark side

A. M. Homes: is the truth darker than her fiction?

A. M. Homes prize-winning novel May We Be Forgiven is ‘breathtakingly dark’ according to Mark Brown, art correspondent for the The Guardian. I haven’t read it yet but, according to Brown, May We Be Forgiven: ‘has a devastating car crash, adultery and a murder within the space of the first 14 pages.’ Does that sound like too much? I, for one, don’t think so.

I’ve never been a fan of horror movies or thrillers. I don’t like to see blood spill or heads roll; I get frustrated with whodunnits because I’m more interested in the whydunnit. Yet I’m tempted to the dark side when reading – and writing – because books help us explore and interpret that darkness. Many great novels, Emma Donoghue’s Room or Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, for example, don’t just have a dark side, but were in fact inspired by heinous human deeds. We all know life can be cruel, so why wouldn’t we expect or want our literature to reflect that? These books have the potential to shine a light into the darkness and help us understand the incomprehensible. The best novels give us both light and shade, the light all the more lovely in contrast to the gloom.

My own novel Burned has been described as dark. To start with I was surprised, I thought I’d written a book celebrating the transforming power of parental love. Now, on reflection, I’m pleased to hear that adjective applied to my writing. Not so long ago I was browsing The Reading Chronicle online and read that someone had committed the very crime that lies at the heart of my book. So to anyone who says they aren’t comfortable with dark novels, I’d simply say: ‘don’t read them.’ But don’t kid yourself: the truth, if I may rephrase an old saying, is darker than fiction.

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