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Holiday reading

11902521_10153119920583333_1817372311601665677_nI’m on holiday and for me this means that, in between the usual paddling, sandcastles and family arguments, I’m reading. Two books so far this week.
The first was Ian McEwan’s cool and confident The Children Act. Very hard to find fault with it, it was engaging and thought-provoking, yet I can’t help feeling that maturity has stripped him a little of his va va boom. I miss the McEwan of the short stories and novellas. (I feel the opposite about Angela Carter. I find the early stuff compelling, like watching a confusion of fireworks shooting out from different places, but as she matured into a master sorcerer, weaving the lights and colour into perfect patterns. Imagine what she would have created if she’d lived a little longer?)
Next I read a classic and much lauded crime fiction novel by a woman. I like the crime genre. It has a pleasing plot structure and it takes you to interesting places in the human mind. I’m not going to name the author or the book because I don’t want you to think that I have anything against this specific book. It was brilliantly plotted, fast-paced, it kept the tension high, interesting and real central characters, loads of good stuff. The problem I had with it didn’t really hit me til I picked up my next book, something else in the same genre by a woman, and read the first line – another woman in pain and danger and more blood.
This isn’t a feminist complaint about female victims in crime. Sometimes, now, the perpetrators are women and the victims are men. Either way, women are in pain or in danger of suffering pain. And there’s lots of blood (often with the addition of some other bodily fluid). Why? The thing I like about crime is the puzzle, the plot puzzle and the human puzzle. Where can I get this without the blood and the women in physical pain?
And it’s not just crime. Even the usually safe ground of romance now comes with the same flavours – think vampires, Fifty Shades, domestic noir… What’s happening to us that is being reflected in our fiction? Has it always been like this and I haven’t noticed? Has it always been there but presented in a more palatable manner? Is it some reaction to the growing outward power of women? And if so, why are women embracing it, rather than fighting its imposition?
Whatever is going on, for me, it’s making very tedious reading. I’m off to the pile of holiday books to find something that doesn’t start with a strong woman made vulnerable and leaking some combination of sweat, tears, mucous or blood.

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