With The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, published and sales of Camus’ The Plague surging, in troubled times is the line between fact and fiction becoming blurred?
Some may say that all times are troubled. And yes, there are always troubles, but not all times are troubled. Contrast, for example, the societies emerging from World War Two and the present.
In the US, in particular, people in the 1950s expected the economy to grow, consumer goods to be plentiful, and life to get better and better (the Cold War notwithstanding). In much of the colonised world, there were struggles and hope for independence.
Today, we are anxious about our future in the face of pandemic, climate change, threats real or imagined which trigger waves of populism, and a sense of economic decline in which many people expect life to get worse and worse.
Maybe that’s why it’s important to write, especially in troubled times, when it all seems hopeless and full of senseless strife. Writers help us make sense of what’s going on and what it means. They probe the big questions of our time. When everything is beautiful, it’s good to share stories. When everything seems to be going to hell, we really need stories.
The Indian writer Geetanjali Shree has this to say:
“I am a writer. My writing has come to a standstill. I cannot see the value of, or think of writing about anything else except this that’s going on. But I cannot write about this, for really, we know less about it now than we did till yesterday. When we felt we were on top and saw ourselves as the force of current times. Visionaries for the future. Unchallenged. Suddenly everything is challenged and everything is changing too fast around us – new tones, new colours, new voices, new visuals. Killings go on. Other atrocities too. And fiery speeches by ‘religious’ politicians
I just stand, like many others, caught in the ‘moment’ which will not/cannot pass me by. I cannot wait for heart and mind to emerge clear and apart before I start writing. It is like being caught in a storm which has to be dealt with right there and then. Right here and now. An inevitability, an incumbency, an immediacy. But what sense can be made of scenes whipping around in a storm? Then leave that be, but record what you see flying around, quickly, it’s urgent, even without making sense maybe, to be able to make some sense in better, easier times maybe.”