Wednesday, 26 August 2009
'Realism, or what we see as realism'
Anne Fine - a very good writer for adults as well as children - is worried about the effects a diet of downbeat literature might be having on child readers. Although it's very hard to judge the effects of books - or any other art form - on anybody, I think she's probably on to something (perhaps even one of the reasons why so many children give up on books altogether? Or why nihilistic adult fiction seems so popular?). Hope, aspiration and sheer escapism can all be legitimately fed by children's (or indeed adult) fiction, and the fact that so many of the most popular and enduring stories have a happy ending suggests that the structure answers a pretty deep-seated desire. The basic misconception that has led to a profusion of bleak children's fiction is that it is somehow more 'real'. It represents, as Anne Fine says, 'realism, or what we see as realism' - a good distinction; there is nothing more innately real in a relentlessly bleak narrative than in one that ends happily. Almost everybody's life contains (often intermixed) bleak narratives and happy narratives, even happy endings (necessarily provisional) - are the former narratives any more 'real' than the latter? Surely not, and the will to regard them as more real seems to me to be related to the bleak scientistic reductionism that insists on telling us what is 'really' going on when, say, we fall in love or enjoy a work of art. Really? Why should an event in life be more real at the level of neuroscience or evolutionary psychology than it is in our actual human experience? This seems as much a flight from reality as an embrace of it - as does the self-conscious 'realist' bleakness of much children's (and adult) fiction.