Can fiction change reality?

Cover of The BelieversThis short video clip and accompanying transcript so aptly explain how fiction can change reality. The author suggests that Katniss in The Hunger Games could express our unease about corruption and capitalism, and that our quest for the “answer” might be found in The Hobbit.

I think of all those novels I have read about relationships both good and bad. What have they taught me – am I a better partner and mother because of them? I remember reading Zoe Heller’s The Believers, the tale of a family where patriarch Joel Livinoff, passionate lawyer and defender of political radicals, suffers a stroke leaving his disagreeable wife Audrey to manage the dysfunctional family. Were the parents so intent on basking in their own self-righteousness and involved in everyone else’s struggles that they failed to see their own? Gulp… was there a message here for me?

Then there is my favourite book of all time, Plainsong, by Kent Haruf.

Set in Colorado in the 1980s, Plainsong tells the story of various Holt residents. There’s teenager Victoria Roubideaux, pregnant and homeless, taken in by two ageing, shy and somewhat taciturn cattle-farming brothers — and the changes wrought in all their lives as a result.

Cover of PlainsongI often thought about these two brothers, how I would have written them off as slow and uninteresting, yet this story of their kindness and depth affected me greatly. Never judge a book by its cover… indeed.

There are the novels that take you out of yourself yet still challenge. Margaret Atwood has to be the mistress of this genre with her MaddAddam series. Set firmly in the future but with enough credibility to make you stop and think about what we really are doing to our planet. Never teachy, this series still manages to challenge, and I haven’t been able to eat pork since! (Read the books to find out why…)

I always read the afterword or introductions to novels, being fascinated as to whom the author thanks. Invariably their library is mentioned for providing invaluable information, friends and family acknowledged and then details given of how the author obtained information about the subjects covered in their books, including perhaps visits to police to learn about forensics, history books read, archives searched and oral histories relayed. The authors might travel to the places they write about, talk to the people who live there, and facts are made into fiction, but the background is real. In the end for me it is this mixture of reality and fiction that makes a great novel.

What do you think? Can fiction change reality?

Has teen fiction taken a nasty turn?

The Hunger Games, a story about children killing children, is currently breaking box office records. Some adults agonise over its violence and cruelty, and wonder if it is bad for their children.

CoverThere has been a run of popular books in the same vein, many of them prize winners.  The Carnegie medal winning Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness for example and last year’s Costa Award winner Blood Red Road, as well as popular books by Michael Grant, Scott Westerfeld and Philip Reeve.

So popular are they, that a quick search in our catalogue for booklists of dystopian fiction brings up  twelve pages of lists, mainly for young adults and including one for our own library network by Zackids .

Arguments abound as to why this is so. Does it simply reflect a need by teenagers to deal with their anxieties through literature? Are their anxieties worse than ours were? Or is it a backlash against the tight control which has enveloped this generation of children? Is it redemptive, or an indication of despair? Or is just about a good exciting story?

Some point out that dystopian fiction for this age group is hardly new. Previous generations have enjoyed classics like Salt by Maurice Gee, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L Engle and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

What do you think? What do your kids think?