Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Not for children

The Girl learned of a short fiction competition for Irish schoolchildren, and resolved to enter her own story. 

She had never written fiction, though, so like many inchoate writers, she drew inspiration from the books she’s read recently – C.S. Lewis, Harry Potter, J.R.R. Tolkien and others. Searching for more, though, she looked further afield for inspiration -- to my bookshelf.

“Is this your book -- The Road?” she asked me on the phone, as I rode the bus home.

What, by Cormac McCarthy? I asked. I had read the novel a few years ago, after it won the Pulitzer Prize; the author was already known for works like No Country for Old Men, and The Road continued his favourite theme of brutal men surviving a harsh landscape. For the latter novel, though, McCarthy switched from his usual American West setting to that of science fiction – a post-apocalyptic wasteland where all life is dying. I loved the crystalline prose, but the story was perhaps the bleakest ever written; Hollywood actually had to dial down the brutality to make it into a film.     

“That’s the one,” she said.

Um … yes, I said slowly. Have you been trying to read it?

“No, I was just looking at the covers of books on your shelf.”

Okay, I said -- because that’s absolutely not a book for children.

“Why not -- does it have a sad ending?”

And a sad beginning and a sad middle, I said. And the interludes between those sad parts are sadder still.

“Would I be able to read it when I’m ten?” she asked.

You can read it when you’re thirty-five, I said.

Fine,” she said in mock petulance. “I’ll just have to find my own things to add to my story” – her story that, I discovered, so far involved wizards, magical animals, secret societies, school-children, vampires, and fairies all fighting climate change.

I don’t think you have a shortage of ideas, I said.

Photo: The road outside our home a few years ago, in one of Ireland's unusual snows. 


Anonymous said...

I am well over 35 and I won't read 'The Road'. My son gave it to me for Christmas 2 years ago, and I sadly looked at him and said 'thanks so much, honey, but this is one book I really cannot possibly even begin to read'. He was surprised but took it away to read himself. He came back to me later and said 'you're right, Mom, this isn't a book for you to read'. He enjoyed it (or found value in it) but his sensibilities are those of a 24 year old who sees the end of the world in many things. Not for children and for many adults, too, I think.

Brian Kaller said...


Agreed. Such extreme tales can present a delicate balance; they can shed light on human nature, they can remind us of our good fortune, or they can just be a kind of pornography.