A long time ago on a web forum far, far away, iCod spelt out the things she was avoiding in fiction. Because sometimes, the wrong few books in a row can convince you that everyone is writing about the same thing. 'No Indians; no dead babies' were among her bugbears - this week I'm adding 'no raped and murdered girls' to my own list.
My two book groups had independently chosen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, books which seemed on the face of it to be entirely different things. One was a weepy tale being made into a film with swooping music, the other the kind of spare, testosterone-y thriller that my mother-in-law reads.
But there it was - rape and murder, in a cellar (or an underground hole, which counts as roughly the same thing). And themes of family ties, vengeance, and justice. Strangely though, in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the violence seemed easier to move on from - although it was horrific, and the author threw quotes at us about the number of women in Sweden who suffered violence, it had Plot Device stamped all over it. For a crime novel, there had to be a crime. There had to be Bad People, in order that we could more closely observe the lives of the Good People as they uncovered the truth. And to give us the requisite amount of tantalising uneasiness about whether or not the Good People were actually that blameless themselves.
But in The Lovely Bones, all we had was the repercussions of the crime, and the sadness and the grief and the loss. Not that the book wasn't stupendously beautifully written. But by the end I felt as if I had gone through a wringer, and even though my brain was bleating about how ridiculous this whole last bit was, and what on earth was going on now, my face was busy squeezing out big fat tears all over the page.
So today I have mostly been cruising round the house trying to find something to sweep all this misery away. I've settled on Prince Caspian - I think I'm on fairly safe ground here. Though who knows? Maybe I'll be adding 'No dwarves; no magical lions' to the list fairly soon.