Part of me feels like this is a daft thing to want to talk about but so often those are the topics that other people are wondering about too so … here goes. Over the past month or so, I have been doing my Greek Mythology Challenge. I chose to do this on the basis that I’ve always enjoyed Greek mythology, I had a fair few Greek myth related books on my TBR and I thought it would be interesting to see what I noticed if I was able to read comparatively. I’ve cleared about seven books from the list and … I need a breather. The reading has got really, really tough. And this got me wondering – does this ever happen to anyone else?
The other night I sat in tears, having just completed The Silence of the Girls. I had finished A Thousand Ships a few days before, making this the second time in one week that I had had to read about the death of Astyanax. When I was fourteen, I read Adele Geras’ Troy. For those unfamiliar with that book, it’s an enjoyable and well-written Young Adult novel set in Troy. One of its main characters is Astyanax’s nursemaid Xanthe. The reader gets to fall in love with Astyanax who is a truly enchanting toddler. When the city falls and he is murdered, I was stunned. I had believed wholeheartedly that a child so loved and happy must surely be saved. Reading of this child’s death again (and then again), particularly at a time when I myself have a child of the same age … it makes me feel a real sorrow. Sorrow for the children who have suffered in wartime and such sorrow for the mothers who have known such hideous loss. But also just sorrow that we have a world that contains men who cannot see that to harm a child is a crime against which the whole earth screams.
Yet I also recognise that this sorrow is one that I have essentially chosen for myself. Nobody forced me to read these books. My partner even asked me why I was making myself read them if they made me so sad. I remember rolling my eyes back in my late teens when a friend remarked that he was feeling very down. Was there anything in particular bothering him? Well, he had watched Schindler’s List six times in five days. And he was surprised that this had made him so sad? We read these books or watch these films because they seem important but … is this giving ourselves sorrow that is heavy to carry in a world already full of burden and care?
A few years ago, I raved about Lincoln in the Bardo and a friend with a young child remarked that she would have loved to read it but she avoided any story about child death now that she was a parent. I was startled at the idea that anything might ever constrict my bookish wanderings but now I am starting to wonder. I used to laugh at how I could mourn a fictional character but in truth, I have now grieved Astyanax for over half my life. The beauty of his child form, the love that he took for granted and the cold brutality with he was dispatched and then the cold-blooded utter cruelty of what was done to his mother after his death. It’s too much. And then there’s that very real chance that his short life was not confined to fiction.
What I’m asking is – do you ever find yourself having to set the book down? Turning away from something not because it is badly written but because it is too true?