I don’t think many people would dispute that we’re living in a strange and crazy world at the moment: a world in which reality and realism seems to have become optional, and it’s hard to know exactly what to believe. I’m tempted to say, there, told you so, that’s why I’ve always avoided social media and the tabloid press like the plague they have become. They exist in a sort of alternative universe where snap reactions seem to carry huge amounts more weight than carefully thought out argument backed by well researched evidence, and themselves seem to carry more weight than the non-sensationalist kind of journalism which makes people think before jumping in with a push-button sound-bite opinion. (I’ve always avoided mobile phones too, though I can see they might have their uses under certain circumstances; I really can’t say the same about Facebook, Twitter, celebrity magazines and all the other garbage that some people are somehow unable to live without.)
OK, I’m ranting. I won’t apologize; I haven’t had a good rant for a while now, so maybe I’m due one. In my defence, I only rant about things I feel strongly about and you’ve probably gathered that this is something I feel strongly about. You gather correctly; it worries me, and I use the word advisedly, that the media’s obsession with celebrity, sport and other general trivia means we close our eyes to things that really matter; and politicians, who are supposed to be the people in a position to do something about things that matter, are too busy arguing among themselves or thumping their own personal tubs (not to mention furthering their careers) to take notice of issues that affect a lot of ordinary folk, and will affect a lot more unless they’re addressed pretty damn quickly.
But until (or more probably unless) all of the above is no longer the case, where do we go for a reviving dose of real truth, real facts and news that actually lines up with the evidence? Dare I say – fiction?
I’ve often said that fiction is a way of illustrating truths. Sometimes unpalatable truths, but big issues often are unpalatable, at least to some people. Some books which claim to be fiction are, in fact, fictionalized accounts of a situation that exists in the real world. Some authors take a major issue, something which needs to be aired, discussed, brought into the open and dealt with, and provide a solution in the form of a heroic protagonist who is prepared to stand up and be counted. And good for them; someone needs to do it, or convenience, expediency or good old-fashioned filthy lucre will keep right on winning out. And two authors who have done it in my recent reading experience are Peter May and Mark Gimenez.
Peter May’s big issue wasn’t one which has made big headlines – but maybe it should. The bee crisis, anyone? It was there, vaguely, on the edge of my consciousness, but when no one makes a song and dance about a problem it tends to get pushed to the back of the line by more pressing matters – in this case, for example, Brexit, Trump, the refugee issue... All the same, if the bee crisis isn’t addressed in short order, none of these will matter because we’ll all be far too concerned about how to get enough to eat to keep us alive. The basic premise behind Peter May’s Coffin Road is not fiction. It’s a well-written, well-constructed thriller, which is reason enough to read it regardless of the theme; but as I read, I realized he was saying something which matters a whole lot more than which celebrity was seen in which night club wearing whose stylish designer underwear, or what a certain orange president tweeted today about something he threatened to do six months ago. Coffin Road. Read it, then check it out.
The Mark Gimenez novel was one of his all too short backlist, but the issue it explored is one which never goes away. The book was The Perk; the issue was the huge chasm that seems to exist between law and justice, and an unfortunate side-effect which he described as the law of unintended consequences. Parts of it made me cry; most of it made me want to scream with frustration.
That such an important task is left to writers of fiction is all kinds of wrong, and far too much responsibility for people who are only supposed to entertain us, but heck, someone’s got to do it! And don’t you just wish those heroic protagonists weren’t fictional at all?