I wrote recently about a comment Andy Griffiths made to our class, that if you asked a bunch of kids what they wanted from a book, they probably wouldn’t say: To be terrified for half an hour.
i.e. readers don’t always know what they want.
I’m quite aware that this may play a large part in how I’ve been feeling about Ward’s decisions about Butch and Vishous, and their decided non-happily-ever-after (at least, not with each other).
But I also think there’s an element of her breaking the contract with her reader. So here goes:
I was watching Stephen Fry talk live about his life the other night, and when he was talking about a young Emma Thompson he said something about actors that I think is also true for writers.
A great actor does two things, he said. They inspire absolute trust in their audience – trust that they won’t be awkward, or allow for awkwardness, trust that they will pull off the show. This allows the audience to relax completely. The second thing they do is cause the audience to lean in towards them with a kind of rapt tension – take the audience to places that might not be comfortable, or expected.
There was a definite moment when Ward broke the trust I had in her as a reader.
When Butch has just undergone his initiation into the Brotherhood (as well as been embraced by V…yeah, ok, you get the picture that I loved that moment, right?) he is surrounded by his brothers and he starts to cry.
Butch grew up completely ostracised from his family, and it means everything to him that he has a family now – one he respects and is part of. “Blood of my blood” part of. He’s just shared that moment with V. He’s been accepted by the brothers, blooded by them.
But he’s crying because….none of it means anything to him without his “mate”.
This disingenuous moment broke my pact with Ward. And it happened again when V has been separated from his “mate” and he and Butch have a big bust up, then talk about their feelings for each other. But still, even though Butch is there, V feels completely alone.
Ha. Yeah. Whatever. (haha, for hardcore BDB fans you can tell I’ve been reading too much of it, true.)
Ward describes her writing process as simply recording what the characters tell her. As soon as she tries to impose order, she says, her writing dries up.
But these moments in particular, and the Butch and V story in general, come across very much like they told her one thing, and she wrote another. Of all the relationships in all the books, theirs is the most genuine. The most believable. And those two moments felt very much like an imposed world order.
I have to consider the other side, though: That actually, as a reader, I loved their doomed love/friendship story, and that it’s perfect just as it is.
i.e. I don’t really know what I want.
So Annii, does the artist have a ‘responsibility’ towards the reader to be aware of whether they’re bringing hope or despair, something that’s true (even if it isn’t nice or hopeful) — or is it up to the reader to take that responsibility?? Does print as a medium give authenticity and therefore calls for authenticity from writer and reader?? How do we manage this freedom, does it come down to sales and book reviewers and word of mouth??? Is freedom ‘just another word for nothing left to lose, nothing ain’t worth nothing but it’s free’? Same question for scientists, teachers, priests, politicians, lawyers — everyone.
I think there’s always room to find what you like/want in a novel, and that process has nothing to do with the writer. BUT in a case like this, where I was so wanting something other than what the writer ended up giving, I found myself thinking “but they should have ended up together” as though it was a separate thing to what the writer had written. Then I realised that the only reason I wanted it is because she wrote it that way…