Thursday, April 01, 2010

Literary conundrum

For most of us, a few basic rules apply when it comes to people we choose to have in our lives - as an important part of the our lives, that is - we need to get along with them, trust them, be able to depend on them; a shared ideology often comes in handy; and we have to respect them, as individuals and humans beings. Now here's my question - does this apply to our relationship with fictional characters as well?

I say 'relationship' because for most of us avid readers, whose best friends are probably books rather than people, who have favourite genres, favourite authors, favourite fantasy worlds and characters, who return to the comfort of much-read books very like one would to an old memory - or an oversized, shabby, warm sweatshirt on winter nights - for us, characters are real and close and perhaps as dear to our hearts as real people we love. While growing up, I considered a lot of the Enid Blyton characters my friends, and then came my beloved Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple; I never tire of reading Alice's Adventures ... (which is probably why I'm a bit wary of watching the Tim Burton movie); and I still think when I'm upset - now how would Anne (of Green Gables) deal with this situation?

To come to the point now. On my recent visit to Delhi, I was introduced to more Scandinavian crime fiction writers by my aunt, who has an enviable collection - and among them were books by the duo Roslund-Hellstrom. Edgy, gritty, disturbing, the books leave you shaken. Unlike Sjowall and Wahloo, or Henning Mankell, who have clear notions of good and evil, these books have no definite moral compass; the whole point, as the authors say, is to show that the perpetrators are often as much victims as, well, the victims. I don't want to throw out any spoilers here, but in one of the books the two lead detectives do something that, to me, was totally reprehensible. Sitting and brooding over the book I'd just finished, I realised I was - disappointed in them. And that I didn't want to read any more - because how I can sit through books featuring characters I no longer had any respect for?

Martin Beck would never have done this, I told my aunt. Nor would Kurt Wallander, or even Inspector Rebus. Almost like they were real people, people to be emulated. Except they are, as far as I'm concerned. And now I no longer want to read otherwise good crime fiction because I'm disgusted at the conduct of the central characters. I don't respect them any more. Not the authors, the characters.

So. Is that weird? Or does anyone else feel that way?