Asides,  Books,  politics

The Misery of narrative

I’ve been re-reading Stephen King’s Misery recently. For those of you who don’t know the story, it features a writer, Paul Sheldon, who after a car accident finds himself in the isolated house of his “number 1 fan” Annie Wilkes. Wilkes is psychotic, and becomes enraged when she reads the latest of his Misery historical romance books, in which he has killed off the main character. She tortures him and forces him to write a new Misery novel, just for her.

It is foremost a great horror novel, but it also acts as an obvious allegory for the relationship between writer and their audience and their own work. From a grander perspective it is also about the power of narrative – both positive and the darker, more deranged consequences of telling powerful stories. Voltaire’s maxim that “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” is the essence of this.

What Misery brings into horrible focus is that people will commit any cruelty to maintain a narrative they have come to see as essential to themselves. Annie Wilkes is furious when she reads the manuscript of his new book, not a historical fiction but a modern piece of literature about car thieves. This is not the world she wants, she wants the cosy, entirely fictional world of Misery. And she feels not only entitled but righteous in any acts of pain she inflicts to regain this narrative.

We see this in the Brexit and Tory British Empire fantasy. The past was, of course, never the Camelot they portray, but any cruelty is justifiable for its maintenance. When they cheer the death of drowned migrants in the Channel and urge the lifeboats not to rescue them, then you know there is no horror they won’t sanctify for their narrative. With the far right gaining power in France and Trump looking like he may be heading for victory in the US, new levels of terror will be required to shore up an increasingly obviously cracked narrative. We are all set to be held captive by the Annie Wilkes of power. It won’t be pretty I fear.

(Misery is a great book, but not unproblematic itself I should add, but for the purpose of this post it is the exploration of narrative and subsequent cruelty that is the focus).

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