Saturday, 21 December 2013

Do Novels Make You Cry?

It occurred to me, seeing my bloodshot eyes in the mirror after putting down the book I had just finished reading, that I had never seen my husband cry while reading a novel.

Yet I do it quite regularly. Indeed, it's almost a benchmark for me of a novel's quality, if it can move me to tears.

Romance or lit fic?
Of course, this rarely applies when reading poetry or what I would call literary fiction. I'm talking largely about genre fiction here, and mainly romance. With poetry, if it's good, I do feel moved emotionally - perhaps 'thrilled' or 'disturbed' would be a better description - and frequently also moved to write something myself. But only a very few poems have brought me to tears, and no literary fiction that I can recall.

With literary fiction, it's more a sense of having some truth revealed. Not usually a truth which pertains to matters of the heart, but one about human nature in general, the momentary lifting of some veil covering one of the mysteries of life and death. Something important and significant, but not necessarily emotional in quality. The kind of quasi-mystical, revelatory impression one receives from reading almost anything by E.M. Forster, for instance. Or perhaps James Joyce, before he erroneously decided longer was better.

So is it normal to cry after reading a novel?

Is romance more literary if it's tragic?
Perhaps the real issue for me personally is, why is something that can elicit a powerful emotional response often considered second-rate by those who value literary fiction above genre? Is it because these books work on an emotional level and don't necessarily uncover the mysteries of existence?

If only they could do both.

This continues to be a problem for me, both as a reader and a writer. I want to write romance which could also be considered literary, but the genre divides are now so sharply defined, that may no longer be possible.

With my head, I know that certain kinds of writing touch me deeply but intellectually, and that these are considered by the literary establishment - and often by common consent - more 'worthy' than the novels which touch me deeply but emotionally.


Confession time: romances by the marvellous Mary Balogh frequently make me blub.
With my heart though, I admit to loving the latter and returning to them more often than the former. Much as I admire literary fiction, genre fiction is what turns the pages for me.

And makes me cry.

2 comments:

  1. I love stories that make me cry but can't recall ever crying, or even having moist eyes, at any literary fiction.

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  2. The last time I cried when reading a novel was with 'Me Before You' by Jojo Moyes. Before that, it was when reading a French novel taking place in Algeria where my mother grew up, because the characters just reminded me so much of her and her quirky turns of phrases (or 'Pied Noir' as we call French people who lived in North Africa at the time). Neither are works of literary fiction.

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