Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Children's books that are too violent - Clementine Beauvais

Just a few brief thoughts today about what might constitute 'dark' or 'violent' children's books.

As I mentioned a few months ago, I've had the pleasure/ honour/ anguish of translating Sarah Crossan's One into French.

proof is:

(yes, I know, it's called 'Inseparable' in French, and yes, I know, that's kinda paradoxical, but no, you've guessed right, they didn't want my choice of title aka 'Unes'.)

Anyway, one interesting reaction I'm getting from early readers of the book (and I'm sure there's similar reactions in Britain, I'm not suggesting it's only in France) is that it's 'such a dark/ violent/ brutal book', because...

... because they've been very ill their whole lives?
... because they're conjoined twins?
... because of the moment when [spoilers]?
... because their dad [spoiler]?
... because at the school, other kids [spoiler]?

None of that. No, it's a dark/ violent/ brutal story, readers say, because can you imagine living in a country where you'd have to earn money to pay for vital medical treatment of that kind?

Can you imagine living in a country where your only choice is 'go on a TV show' to reimburse basic care expenses for lifelong disability?

To a French audience (and to British readers I'm sure, too), that aspect of the story, the very pressing problem of money in relation to medical care, is completely overwhelming. (As a sidenote, I'm actually pleased that Breaking Bad exists, because it means that the idea of paying for medical treatment now at least exists somewhere in the psyche of the audience that will receive the novel.)

I'm amused that these have been the reactions I've encountered so far. When I think of the number of times when newspapers here in Britain get tired and hire some journalist to tell us how awfully dark, sinister, sad, violent 'Continental' children's books can be. Look at that horrible book about a witch! look at how dark those illustrations are! is this a book about illness, for 3-year-olds? how shocking! Europeans write such terrifying children's books!

But is it more shocking to have a book that's about illness, or a book that's about illness that can only be cured if we pay for it? Is it darker, more sinister, to talk about witches and wolves and monsters, or about the everyday acts of violence inflicted on its people by a society that fails to provide social security and protection?

Sarah's One has now taken on a still more sinister, still darker guise than when it first came out. I hope French readers are sensitive to this important, poignant 'theme' of the book - the brutality of having to pay for medical treatment, at any cost, even that of personal dignity.

Dark theme. But those are dark times...

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