Wow! I’m so impressed by the skill of some writers. Amazing imagination, incredible ability to hold strands of plots together and weave them into a coherent pattern, stunning empathy with characters experiencing life’s challenges, facility with words that takes me deep into the world they’ve created.
I’m particularly thinking today of Peter James whose Dead Tomorrow I took with me to Devon.
It’s a story about a mother whose young daughter desperately needs a new liver. And about a detective who knows what devastating loss feels like and who suspects human trafficking is taking place on his watch. And about youngsters living on and under the streets of Eastern Europe. And about bodies being dredged up in Brighton minus their major organs …
OK, this isn’t the kind of book that wins the Mann Booker prize. But it is the kind that makes you walk into a lamppost. And it leaves you with lots to think about. How far would I go to save my daughter’s life? How long would I wait before having a missing loved one declared dead? How much would I give up to help street kids abroad? What should I do about the desperate shortage of organs for transplantation?
As readers we all have our preferences. One man’s meat … as they say. But me? I like books that ask these kind of questions. Well, I would, wouldn’t I? Because that’s the kind of novel I write too. Only a couple of weeks now and my sixth one, Remember Remember, should be out. And I start a run of appearances at things. Most of March looks a bit crazy on the calendar so blogs might be brief!
And I’m hoping that Bertrand Russell got it wrong when he said:
Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.
Because encouraging people to think is what I’m all about.
But Russell also said:
I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.
I’m with him on that one. In my novels I always leave lots of scope for my readers to make up their own minds.
Well, I’m still here! Transpennine Express got me safely to Manchester and back even though they didn’t think it important to have any heating in February now the snow’s gone. And there was no coach E, so my seat reservation was a tad meaningless. But I found a seat anyway and got Direct Red by Gabriel Weston read at last. My frozen feet kept me nicely awake. This surgeon’s tale of her early experiences as a doctor, has been on my list for ages, so it was good to finally have it at the top of the pile. Having worked in hospitals for decades myself the stories resonated, and these are refreshingly honest and humble.
As for my presentation on the place of fiction in bioethics, well, suffice it to say the listening bioethicists didn’t eat me alive. But their minds are definitely on a more exalted plane than mine. They tease out words and ideas and just revel in arguments about what exactly constitutes bioethics; who’s in the circle, who’s out; whether it’s right or wrong to have cctv monitoring or assisted suicide or films giving only part of the picture on one of life’s big questions; what exactly Aristotle was getting at; whether artists should be allowed to shock people … all good exercise for my little grey cells. Just this once! You can read all about it if you’re interested.
The fact that we all see the world in different ways depending on where we stand and how observant and sensitive we are to different things was summed up nicely in this poem by John Godfrey Saxe:
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
‘God bless me! but the Elephant
Is like a very wall!’
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, ‘Ho, what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!’
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake
‘I see,’ quote he, ‘the Elephant
Is very like a snake!’
The Fourth reached out an eager hand
And felt about the knee.
‘What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,’ quoth he;
’Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!’
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said, ‘E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can.
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!’
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
‘I see,’ quoth he, ‘the Elephant
Is very like a rope!’
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
So oft in theologic* wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
*substitute bioethic or scientific or moralistic or whatever. Because the moral applies to all of us in one context or another, doesn’t it?
Hey ho, I return more than ever humbled by my own ignorance. And I confess, relieved to have that experience safely behind me. I can now bend my mind to other things … like family problems in Devon, so I’m off down there for the rest of the week. It takes a full day on the train each way, which means at least two books ticked off my still-to-read list – other people’s mobile phones and conversations permitting. I’m taking February by Lisa Moore and Dead Tomorrow by Peter James. An unexpected bonus. They’ve been tempting me for some time.