A couple of years ago I blogged about the reasons I’d give up on a novel. Near the top of my list of eleven reasons, I wrote:
4. While I believe there’s room for a touch of humour in almost any topic, I don’t like comedic takes on tragic situations unless, like The First Bad Man, it’s really dark and over the top. Apparent denial of desperation and devastation can really freak me out.
While these two points still hold for me as a reader, I’m not sure I can identify exactly where the balance lies for me between dark and light, either in relation to what I want from a novel or in how to find it.
The story of a teenager’s disappearance certainly has a dark side, but was it dark enough? The wit and humour of the voice was great, but did it detract from the seriousness of the subject matter?
Some readers, as I think we’ve discussed here before, feel there’s enough darkness in the world as it is and look for something more cheerful in their reading. I’ve read elsewhere that this might account for the popularity of the novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, in which a socially awkward young woman with a traumatic past finds healing in the kindness of strangers. Although I enjoyed aspects of this novel, that’s just too nicey-nicey for me.
There’s a happy-ever-after element to some novels that doesn’t ring true for me. Throw all kinds of shit at the characters but let them walk away clean and perfumed at the end of the book. It’s a what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger mentality that makes me want to scream. Even discovering, courtesy of a lovely post earlier this year from Norah Colvin, that this insult to anyone who’s been bent, broken or wounded by life comes from Nietzsche and not Hallmark doesn’t alter my opinion.
On the other hand, even though I know it reflects some people’s lives, I don’t want to be taken down to the depths of hell in my reading and left there. I want some colour. I want the occasional smile. And I don’t want to feel guilty about my reluctance to look evil in the face. So I kept to-ing and fro-ing about whether House of Stone might be too dark to make my favourites (even though no-one is pretending that the suffering of these Zimbabwean citizens was character building).
What I wonder is whether all readers appreciate a mixture of light and dark, but we differ in our preferences for the ratio of one to the other. Or is it that we look for different types of narrative: some seeking reassurance that things won’t get too bad while others need to find the piebald world they see around them reflected on the page.
Are you able to articulate your own preferences for light and dark in fiction? Is it something you even consider?
Follow this link for my other posts on reading habits and preferences.
I’ve also picked out three potential favourites of 2018 (Whistle in the Dark; The Sealwoman’s Gift; House of Stone) all, incidentally, written by women.