Divorcing Fact From Fiction

One particular book has been all over my radar for the past few days.  People whose opinions I respect absolutely love it.  So I looked it up, all ready to put it on my Amazon Wish List.  Then I stopped.

‘Child 44’ is set in Stalinist Russia and I cannot read books that involve horrifying situations derived from real life.

What does that mean?

Basically I can’t read anything set during a war.

Not WWII (No Sebastian Faulks or Stephen Ambrose for me), not World War I, not Vietnam … not even cowboys and Indians.  I simply cannot read books set in a situation where real life atrocities have been committed on a vast scale.

These so called fictional books make me think of the true stories that inform them.  I cannot stop thinking that the true stories are in so many cases, so much worse than what I am reading.

The fact is, when I read a book set during a war, I simply cannot divorce fiction from reality.  Unless the writer introduces aliens or fairies, they cannot tell me the tale they are writing didn’t actually happen.  Because it probably did – a dozen different times – the board is too full of players for the impossibility to be considered.

In the first world war the total number of military and civilian casualties was over 37 million.  Thirty seven million!  You cannot tell me that on a stage that size there were no epic love stories, murder mysteries, tales of valour, honour and villainy.  Every story that an author could conceive would have been acted out.

So you cannot tell me that the tale I am reading is ‘just made up’.  The details may have been concocted by a novelist, but I know the story happened all the same.

I cannot read a book about the war without remembering the terrible things that man does to man, even now.

And it isn’t just books – I can’t watch war films, or TV series either.  The last one I tried to watch was a David Jason miniseries called ‘All The Kings Men’.  After the last episode Andy came home from work (late) to find me literally hysterical.  I’d been sobbing for two hours.

I can’t do it.  I don’t care how good you say it is.  I haven’t watched Schindlers List, The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, Birdsong.

For the same reason I won’t watch anything subtitled ‘based on a true story’.

It isn’t violence I have a problem with.  I’ll happily go and see Dredd.  The Avengers is my favourite film of the year.  I enjoyed Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and Batman not long ago.  Fantasy violence is fine.  Horror is fine too.  I recently enjoyed the Aliens Quadrilogy and Woman in Black.

But if it isn’t fantasy, sci-fi or paranormal, you can keep your violence.

But … and this is the strange thing.  The past lives of the protagonists in Angel’s Fury are set during the holocaust.

I had to do a lot of research, from Hitler’s rise to power, to the Nazi Youth, to the weaponry.  I had to imagine myself in the role of a little Jewish girl and a Nazi.  I had to write two death scenes, one for each.

Why?  Why can I write something set in a war, live in it within my imagination, yet go out of my way to avoid watching or reading it?

I’m genuinely not sure, but maybe it’s because if I’m doing the imagining, I know it isn’t real.  I actually can divorce the fact from the fiction.

Weird though …

  1. I’m with you on this all the way – eerily so. I force myself to read the First World War poets around Remembrance Day (a legacy of Catholic schooling!) but Birdsong, no. I really must read your book….well, maybe!

    • Luckily mine has those fantasy elements that take it out of the realms of reality.
      It’s so nice to know that I’m not alone!

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