I read a lot of books. Usually about 5 at any one time because I need to switch around a variety to stay engaged. Typically in my reading portfolio there’s a business book, a self development book, a science/research type book, a book about spirituality and a novel of some kind. The novels are usually about someone’s life story or life events, obviously because I love analysing human behaviour.
Recently I was recommended ‘The Girl On The Train’ by Paula Hawkins. I’d seen adverts for this book plastered all over the place – most notably the displays at train stations – and I noticed that there’s a lot of hype about the book at the moment. It made me wonder why. From what I read, I wondered if it seemed quite reflective of the situations that many people in modern western society find themselves in. Popular books usually hit a common note with it’s audience if it resonates with them, usually through the stories or the characters. That thought left me feeling quite sad about the society that I live in. Let me summarise the characters to give you an idea why.
A alcoholic who is avoiding the depressive life’s she’s created for herself and appears to drink as a way to numb the pain – at least from what I can make out.
A woman who has narcissistic behaviour and uses intimate relationships as a way to fill the gaping void of grief for the death of her brother that she hasn’t fully deal with.
A mirage of other characters who live in the illusion that they’re happy because they have a job in the city/own house/status quo happy relationship (inc baby in one case) even though their secret thought patterns are very negative.
The book is very well written and the author did a great job of creating character depth and drawing the reader into the situations. However, I simply couldn’t finish it because the reality of the situation made me feel so deflated. In one sense it’s a compliment to the author because I was clearly so drawn into the book that it was evoking such a depth of feeling within me. However, the feeling itself was depressing. It made me realise how inept we are as a culture of dealing with certain life events. The very popularity of the book made me wonder if we face an epidemic in western societies – a subconscious apathy in the illusion of happiness?
Lucky for me I already had another book to switch over to: ‘In Order to Live’ by Yeonmi Park. This book is about a girl who escapes life in North Korea. It talks about the famine and what it was like to live through starvation. How she and her family would risk their lives and walk for miles to receive less food than one UK family might throw away in a week. This girl has to repeatedly physically fight off men who constantly try to rape her while she is trafficked across borders like a commodity. She’s 13.
In the second book there is no opportunity to create significance out of hardship, because everyone is in hardship so there’s no difference. However there is a strong sense of compassion and human intimacy between the characters, which together with the hardship seems to create a wealth of emotional resilience.
Both these books made me ponder about psychological trauma and the significance of it in the perspective of our lives. I believe that it’s necessary to acknowledge and validate a difficult life experience in order to process it. But I wonder how much quicker this process would be if we didn’t have the opportunity to claim significance for the story. I wonder if this perspective on life might make someone think differently about their situation.
As we come closer to Christmas, I remember how difficult last year was. A quite Christmas day with a gaping void that so many painful emotions swirled around in the absence of my Father. What I remember most though, is how we talked about missing him and how the conversations always ended with gratitude. We were grateful that we had such an amazing person in our lives for so many years. We were grateful that we had each other. We were grateful that we had our health, a roof over our heads and food on our table. It’s easy to say thanks flippantly but when we allow ourselves to immerse in the situation of others, that’s when we can really feel gratitude. I wonder if the characters in The Girl On The Train might think differently about their privileged lives if they woke up every morning with the excruciating pain of life threatening hunger? Or if they were separated from their family and anyone who spoke their language, in to a trade channel that constantly tried to rape them? I wonder if we might think differently about our own pain if we could see it through the perspective of others?
Even if we are missing someone at Christmas, have hardship or ill health it’s valuable to remeber that there are people in the World who don’t have food, safety or shelter at one of the most joyous times of year.
Wishing you a Christmas full of gratitude x