Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thoughts: Falling Out of a Book

It's happened to all of us: you're reading a book. You might be galloping along, or slowly enjoying the story. And suddenly, you read something that makes you come to a screeching halt. That wrong note takes you out of the action--sometimes only for a moment, sometimes irreversibly.

What pulls you out of books? For me, it's factual errors, in particular anachronisms in historical fiction. Perhaps it's my background as a history major; perhaps it's the nitpicky aspect of my nature. But if I come across something that doesn't seem right, it tosses me out of the book right on my ear.

For example, today I was reading a work of historical fiction, set in pre-1066 Ireland. The Vikings are invading the local village, and with invasion comes the possibility of rape, as pointed out by the female protagonist to the male protagonist. And yes, when your village is invaded, and you're female, there's a high probability that you will be sexually assaulted.

However . . . in this period, "rape" wouldn't be the word you'd use for nonconsensual sex. Not in this way. As detailed in this Wikipedia article, rape was originally used in a broad sense to describe any attack on a man's property, of which a woman was included. This is why the kidnapping of the Sabine women is described as rape. Quite possibly, these women were sexually assualted, but the bigger issue was that the men's property had been stolen and trespassed upon.

So, a female of the period in this novel, describing sexual assault as rape, struck a false note to me. And now, although I had liked the story up to this point, I'm looking at the book, feeling a bit disappointed that my pleasure has been muted. I hope to keep reading to see what happens in this novel, but it's just not the same now.

What pulls you out of a book? What makes you stop and not be able to continue?


Maggie Stiefvater said...

This is so true! As a history major, historical untruths can ruin it for me, as can anachronistic dialog or mentalities. (Yes we all love a strong female character, but they can't ALL be strong female characters in 12th century Britain, babe, k thanks bye).

Also a character motivation that is suddenly plot driven after an entire novel of being character driven can immediately make me stop and blink.

Abby said...

I agree with you that historical errors pull me out of a story, although I wasn't a history major so probably most of them slip by me. I can't remember what book I was reading, but it was a teen book where the protagonist described someone's dowdy, ugly clothes by saying she was dressed like a librarian. Maybe it was an overreaction, but I put that book down right then and didn't pick it up again. :)

melissa said...

Maggie: Hee! You're right: you can't always have strong female protagonists, not in a way that looks strong to our modern eyes, that still fits with the history.

Abby: It's one thing to come across a typo or a grammatical error, because those, I can overlook. But history errors? Yeah, that means to me that either the author hasn't done their research or has sacrificed research to the story. And while it's hard to justify the history with the plot, it is possible.

And I don't blame you for putting down that book. :-)