What is fiction for? A personal response

By Paige Davis

Ella Berthoud discusses what is fiction for?
Ella Berthoud discusses: “What is fiction for?” Picture: Paige Davis

I have always found the essence of fiction to be something in which you can lose yourself, and take on the life of a character as though it were your own. A way in which you can escape the hardships of your own life, and experience the wonders of someone else’s. Everyone can enjoy fiction in some form, whether it be a fictionalised account of true events, or a story entirely imagined.

Upon walking into the marquee, I knew this would be an inviting debate as humourist writer, John Crace and bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud, gave their opinion on what fiction is for. Although both write in different forms and use fiction as different tools – one for therapy, one as the basis for satire – they both seemed to overall agree with each other, and with me.

When Crace pointed out that “books open themselves to different interpretations and a good book will always welcome and allow this to happen,” I couldn’t help but agree. It made me think that fiction is there to allow different people to create various interpretations and meanings for themselves.

Berthoud certainly provided a new insight into what fiction can be used for. Initially, I’d never heard of a bibliotherapist. I’d never thought of using fiction as a way of calming your mind when in such times of need. There are even books prescribed particularly for for depression. I imagine reading during depression to be an extreme task – it definitely was for me! – but Berthoud believes that: “a book read at the right time, can have healing properties and can be enjoyed.”

Crace, however, suggested fiction was something to be remembered. He recalls reading a ‘Top 100 Books to Read’ list and only recognised a couple of names and authors. I realised that all the authors I’ve heard of, read or studied, are only a small percentage of the authors who have all existed and offered their words to the minds of the public.

The debate was filled with good humour as both authors read excerpts from published works (Crace; Brideshead Abbreviated and Berthoud; The Novel Cure) and provided a personal insight into what the purpose of fiction in doing so. There was a great sense of community within the debate, as members of the audience nodded in agreement with the authors.

It is difficult to define what fiction is for. Surely the fact that novels are there to be read and interpreted in different ways therefore means it’s impossible to define what they’re for? I can however give my say: that fiction is definitely for everyone to enjoy.

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