This is a theme I explore in one of the chapters of my forthcoming novel “Our Best Attention”. In it, a woman with a lifetime of struggle and hard work in an unhappy situation, resolves to take an action that is, in fact, a virtual taboo in our culture. It was easy enough to write, in fact the story tumbled out. I found the character concerned to be likeable and pitiable in equal proportions and her predicament rested on almost Victorian circumstances. An echo from the past ringing forward into the 1970s in an uncomfortable way.
This chapter has been read by a number of people and the different reactions to it are striking: male readers tend to dislike it intensely. One found it “too bleak”, another that the central character was “evil and depraved.” Neither was intended. However, female readers, perhaps reacting to the central unfairness of the character’s life, were much more sympathetic. More typical comments were, “that poor woman,” and “what a shame.” That was the reaction that I had hoped to elicit when writing the story. It was certainly how I had felt as the story wrote itself.
Maybe the male reader tends to see bad as bad and the female reader sees beyond the action to the back story: to the whys and hows of life rather than just the whats? A sweeping generalisation of course for which I apologise. Can’t wait to hear more comments on the story after publication though!