Saturday, 6 February 2010

My not-so-great escape

I like escaping. The other night, on the train back from a particularly abstruse meeting, another commuter's arse jammed in my face (I can't think why, the train wasn't particularly crowded), I found that the only way to survive was to open a particularly absurd book and read until the announcer says ALL CHANGE. Preferably earlier, if the train terminates at Aberdeen or somewhere. And I'm not the only one. I saw three or four others on the train doing the same thing; men reading Grisham or Crichton, women reading Twilight or Trollope. All of these count as escaping in their own way.
And I wouldn't decry escapist literature. It may be undemanding, have little to no literary merit and characters who would do just as well as cardboard cut-outs, but while life can be so unremittingly awful, it has its place. Think of the appalling things that exist and have their place in modern life - call centres, paninis, portable gadgets to play music loudly enough to be audible via headphones - and you'll see why The Baroness's Bodice or The Teenage Vampire Who Loved Me fulfil an indisputably necessary function, to wit, to blot out the ongoing twenty-first century horror.
My particular penchant is for neither of these. Dick Francis is my ticket out of the Starbucks-dominated urbopolis in which I unfortunately find myself. In Mr Francis' beautifully researched novels, outwardly unremarkable men with interesting jobs prove that they are double hard by being tortured in some delightfully gruesome way by a group of psychopaths involved in some kind of horse racing scam. Same plot, different names and jobs. I love them. I know i's the same book eighty times over, but I love them.
My mum is the same with Catherine Cookson, whose novels likewise contained any number of recurring themes - plucky Geordie lass has illegitimate child following being "taken down" by the master, but eventually marries and rises from the brothels and urban poverty of Bog End to the middle class neighbourhood of Brampton Hill. Husband does a lot of muttering thickly, often with his hands under his oxters, occasionally while on the netty. But my mother loves them, even if she can't remember which ones she's read because they're all so alike.
Of course, it's a lot easier to glare over your novel at the commuter's too-close-for-comfort arse and imagine a bunch of thugs threatening him with a humane killer than it is to imagine him being taken down by the master. In that regard I have the upper hand over my mother. Having said that, armed with our reading matter, both of us have the upper hand over the world.

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