‘ahems and ahahs’

Literature, & Etc.

Walking Away:

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I’ve only walked away from a book in disgust once in my life. Stephen R. Donaldson’s fantasy novel, “Lord Foul’s Bane” the first in a trilogy entitled, “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: The Unbeliever”. This was an odd reaction as I am very much desensitized to most types of violence and horror/gore. Yet, Donaldson’s novel puts the reader in a harsh position. The protagonist of the novel is a modern day leper, spurned and hated by society. When a series of fantastical events occur, Thomas Covenant finds himself in a world where his body has been restored. Pretty standard fantasy so far, a little odd with establishing a character who is a leper. In chapter four a rape takes place, the rape of a very young girl and I had to physically put down the book and walk away from it, not as a result of his writing or descriptions, but simply my disgust at the character. I did return to the novel at some point a few weeks after and finished this series. A side note, this scene has great significance and Donaldson does not treat the subject lightly, due punishment and restitution is handed out further on in the series.

I recently picked up Iain Banks’s novel, “The Wasp Factory”, and I’ve had a similar reaction. The main character is a teenage boy who at the age of seventeen, has already murdered three family members. This is a young man who as a form of entertainment kills small animals with dynamite. There is a particular scene in which Banks’s character, Frank sets fire to an entire field along with the many rabbit inhabitants using a make shift flame thrower.

“The first dazed rabbits came out; two of them bleeding at the nose, looking otherwise unharmed but staggering almost falling. I squeezed the plastic bottle and sent a jet of petrol out of it, over the wick of the lighter, held a few centimeters out from the nozzle by an aluminum tent-peg. The petrol burst into flame as it flew over the wick in the tiny steel cup, roared through the air and fell brightly on and around the two rabbits. They took flame and blazed, running and stumbling and falling. I looked round for more as the first two flamed near the centre of the Grounds, finally collapsing into the grass, stiff-limbed but twitching, crackling to the breeze. A tiny lick of flame flickered round the mouth of the ‘thrower; I blew it out. Another, smaller rabbit appeared. I caught it with the jet of flame and it zipped off out of range, heading for the water by the side of the hill the savage buck had attacked me on. I dug into the War Bag, dew out the air-pistol, cocked it and fired it in one movement. The shot missed and the rabbit trailed a thread of smoke round the hill.


The fire was out everywhere; the grass too young and moist to catch. Not that I’d have cared if it had gone up. I considered setting the whin bushes alight, but the flowers always looked cheerful when they came out, and the bushes smelled better fresh than burned, so I didn’t. I decided I’d caused enough mayhem for one day. The catapult was avenged, the buck – or what it meant, its spirit maybe – soiled and degraded, taught a hard lesson, and I felt good. If the rifle was all right and hadn’t got sand inside the sights or anywhere else awkward to clean, it would almost have been worth it. The Defense budget would stand buying another catapult tomorrow; my crossbow would just have to wait another week or so. With that lovely sated feeling inside me, I packed the War Bag and went wearily home, thinking what had happened over in my mind, trying to figure out the whys and wherefores, see what lessons were to be learned, what signs to be read in it all. On the way I passed the rabbit I thought had escaped, lying just before the sparkling clean water of the stream; blackened and contorted, locked into a weird, twisted crouch, its dead dry eyes staring up at me as I passed by, accusatory. I kicked it into the water.”

Banks, Iain. The Wasp Factory. Abacus. London: Abacus, 1984.

While I am not particularly enjoying the character, the writing is impressive and I think what happens is that the author is doing too good a job of what he’s supposed to do as a writer. I am inside the mind of a psychotic child who has some very serious mental issues and I am not enjoying what I see, and maybe this is the point. I do not think that Banks is writing in a purposefully gratuitous way, yet a novel like this is something that I have to come back to a few days at a time as the mindset of this character is just too insidious for me to finish all the way through without some breaks or lighter reads in between.

So this raises some interesting questions in my mind.I know some would argue that it is dangerous to provide a sense of sympathy for this type of character, yet I would counter it’s more dangerous to forget that such individuals exist in our society. Maybe this is the point of Banks’s character, to frighten, to make us reflect that such individuals are out there and that they are capable of such destruction and horror, and that we need to do more for them, to help these people out.

Regardless, I’m enjoying the novel, it’s just something that I’m having to take my time with. I’ve read for a few days and now I’m going to give myself a few more to read something lighter and not so dark.

Written by thebeliever07

July 31, 2008 at 11:54 am

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