Monday, 17 July 2006

Books that make you cry

As a writer, I would give anything to be able to make a reader cry. Usually it occurs on the death of a character, but only if the character is drawn with skill and sympathy. To create a character that is so well loved by a reader that when he or she dies, the reader cries, must be the ultimate goal. The same is true on the death of a character, perhaps not so well drawn in itself, but whose relationship with another character is so important.

I have just finished reading Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. (Warning: spoiler!) This book made we weep at the injustice of a particular character's death (and the manner of it) and rant with rage at the characters whose interference caused it to happen. Indeed, I felt far greater rage at the friend whose betrayal led to the incident, than I did at the actual perpetrators.

This is what makes great fiction. The ability to pit characters' desires against each other, so that conflict arises, not out of hatred or rage, but out of differing objectives. When it comes down to a simple choice - and a decision. In Across the Nightingale Floor, I always suspected this character was going die. So the power of the incident lay in the fact that he came out second best in the tug-of-war over the protagonist. Friends became - not enemies - but helpless rivals. The stakes were just too high for one of them - and lead to severe regret on the part of the betrayor.

The other thing that made it so powerful for me was the protagonist's plight. We only really know the doomed character through the protagonist, but it was the strength of the relationship between them that made it so moving. For the protagonist to have 'the rug' so firmly pulled out from under his feet, preventing him from carrying out a critical task - indeed, the task the whole book had been building towards - and thereby doom this character, was masterful.

Others might argue that this is the stuff all stories are made of, but I would argue that not all stories make me cry. Or even make me feel such passion towards or against the characters. I say again, if I could do that as a writer, I would feel as though something had validated my crazy notion of wanting to write novels.

This book is the book we're reading during July for my reading group, Page Turners. I will post a summary of our discussion after the meeting, which is to be held on 3 August.

I am now going out to buy numbers 2 and 3 in this fantasy trilogy. And I can't wait.

[NOTE: I mention below that I was going to load this novel as an audiobook. I did do this, and started off listening to it while walking. However, yesterday I became obsessed. I listened to it while cooking dinner, and while eating dinner, and then grabbed the book itself (fortunately within reach) and read the conventional way until 3:00 am when I finally finished it.]

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