Reading like a Writer: mental health in popular fiction
This is my Goodreads review of Sarah Rayner’s latest novel Another Night, Another Day. She is already a bestselling novelist, probably most famous for One Moment One Morning, a story spiraling around the sudden death of a man on a Brighton to London commuter train. There is no mystery. He has a heart attack while chating to his wife, a heart attack in the middle of his life while he still has an important job to do in bringing up his young family. Sarah’s story is about the ripples of grief experienced by those that loved and lost him. In her new novel she again returns to a serious, thought-provoking subject. This time it’s mental health and she follows three characters – two women and a man – as they slowly acknowledge that they need medical help.
It doesn’t sound very sexy, does it? Not exactly a page turner. Yet, that is what it is. As I admit in my review, I can’t quite put my finger on why it works, what makes it so readable…except perhaps that even when dealing with human anquish Sarah has a light touch. Don’t mistake me, there’s nothing trivial about this book, but it is accessible, enjoyable even because we come to care about the characters she has created and want to be part of the journey they are on…
And what can we learn as writers? For me, the lesson is that we should not allow ourselves to be steered away from certain subjects because we’re not that ‘kind of writer’. If you write with passion and genuine interest and insight you can write about anything.
Writers have wings: we fly anywhere.
photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc
Another Night, Another Day by Sarah Rayner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I still don’t know how Sarah Rayner has made a realistic and moving account of mental health problems in 21st century Britain into a page-turner, but she has.
She doesn’t duck issues: private and NHS care are compared and contrasted and she explores the problems of her three main characters with such emotional clarity that it feels as though you are walking around in someone else’s shoes – a remarkable achievement.
This is a book written with a quiet, understated skill. I read it in a couple of evenings, staying up late to finish it, something I usually only do for a gripping murder mystery. I am still working out why it is unputdownable. I suspect it’s the combination of genuine empathy with a compelling writing style.
It’s a very human book throwing light on very human problems. And you don’t neeed to read it while wearing a hair shirt…you’re not making any sacrifices as a reader