Thursday, July 10, 2014

Home or Away?

   I was discussing a favourite stage series with a friend the other day and he maintained that the audience could enjoy any of the individual plays without having seen them from the beginning of the series.  I agreed that each play could stand alone, but believed that the audience would get a greater experience if they had been privy to the whole series from the start. 
     The discussion rambled on to the topic of books and whether we gained more from reading familiar places and people or from venturing into exotic settings and alien characters.  Seemed like a perfect topic for an "international" fiction writers blog. :-)
      I looked for the answer in the responses to Ian's question from last week re favourite books to see if there were any patterns.  Five people mentioned L.M. Montgomery's "Anne" books.  Two were Canadians (Montgomery's home) and two were from Australia and one is truly an international citizen, now living in Mozambique. So no clear bias there.  Wind in the Willows got two mentions, neither from Brits, so national bias doesn't appear on that one either.  Guess the responses to Ian's post can't answer my question.
    I'm a fan of Alice Munro, not only for her superb writing but because I can relate so well to her characters.  I "know" those people, I've lived in those small towns, I can smell the lake and I know just how the gravel road peters out into a sandy trail that leads through the long grass to the beach.  Since Ms Munro is world renowned, it is obvious that readers who don't share her, (and my) experience of small town Ontario appreciate her work.  My question is, do they "get" it in the same way as someone native to that part of the world?  
    I know we read to broaden our horizons, to visit places we can never go in real life, to meet characters who will take root in our minds as surely as the boy from down the street.  I love stories about sheep farmers in New Zealand (Essie Summers) or "the season" in London (Georgette Heyer) or the Norwegian bachelor farmers in Lake Wobegon (Garrison Keillor) But do I get "all" of the story, or just the first couple of layers?
   And so I turn to you, fellow bloggers and readers.  Can a good author portray a time and place so vividly that any reader gets the whole picture, or do fellow citizens or like-minded believers have the inside track?

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Here on sunny Vancouver Island, summer is in full swing, the garden is sprouting zucchini, potatoes and peas at a phenomenal rate.  I'm making jams and jellies and freezing vegetables for next winter.  My days start early so I can beat the heat and I've taken to napping in the hottest part of the day.
    Now, if you're reading this in a winter climate, do you relate to my summertime situation or do you just pull on another sweater and grumble about the cold?


  1. No grumbling, Alice. We just 'throw another log on the fire'. Still, we can't wait for those first signs of Spring.

    That was an interesting piece of research. I went back to read Ian's blog as I'd missed it. I guess that's what we writers strive for...drawing our readers into actually feeling they can visualize the settings. I

    t does take a lot to engage all the senses to help a reader gain a feeling of familiarity. If it's an exotic place and out of a person's experience that makes it doubly difficult for the author but I'm sure if done with skill it can work. I mean Fantasy and Science fiction writers have to do it consistently throughout their story. However, maybe most of us have experienced small towns/big cities. Even so, you have to 'pull out all the stops' to make them feel they actually 'know' that setting.

    1. It does indeed take a skilled writer to make me know that world. I just finished a book partially set in the Amazon. Now this was by a very successful author and I did learn about dengue fever, and I knew, intellectually, that the heat was unbearable, but I still have no "feel" for that part of the world. Maybe Fantasy writers have an advantage in that their world is totally make-believe so no reader has ever experienced that place first hand. We all "get" it at the same level.
      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Thanks for the post Alice. I think a good writer can convey a place so vividly you can see it. For instance I have read so many books about Maine I almost feel I have been there. Probably the closest I will ever get.

    1. Why Maine? What draws you to books about that State?

  3. I love books that take you to places you've never been able to visit in person. When they become like an additional character to the book and not just something that had to be added. That is when the story, along with an equally gripping set of characters, comes alive!

    As for our weather, it's cold here, but I'm enjoying every moment of it! Summer will be here--hot, hot, hot--before I know it and that's when I tend to grumble a bit. :-) But your description definitely made me want to come visit!!