Dangerous empathy, slush systems, flowers, a hellcat meme-minter, and an escaped gorilla.
The irregular book review review. vol. I
The irregular book review review is an experiment. Paid subscribers will receive a small number of links to interesting literary essays, approximately once a month. I will offer a short commentary, either on the essay or the topic. As you can see below, this will range from recommending old novels and grouching about modern publishing to enthusing about the golden year of fiction that was 1954 and finding Johnsonian echos in modern culture.
Nicola Griffith argues writers should be careful with empathy in an essay that reminded me of Samuel Johnson. Johnson worried that presenting bad behaviour in fiction with (tacit) approbation would encourage it. As he said in Rambler No. 4: “that which is likely to operate so strongly, should not be mischievous or uncertain in its effects.” Griffith, contrariwise, is concerned that readers will suffer through empathy.
If your protagonist must suffer (and to a degree we all must), at that point use the reader’s mirror neurons judiciously. Empathy is a powerful tool, and sharp. Be careful how you wield it.
I just read The Colony by Audrey Magee, a study of the individual behaviours involved in colonisation, which contains plenty that made me wince, and arguably fails Johnson’s test. I can’t agree it that ought to save my feelings or minimise representing evil to try and discourage it, though I confess I skipped one page. It was simply too tragic.