I read The Kite Runner for Book Group last week, and after a few people raved about it, I was expecting something brilliant. Well, I quite liked it – there we go, nothing if not effusive! The first 100 pages or so were great – a very vivid and complex portrait of an unequal fraternal relationship. Fascinating glimpse at issues of servitude, power, jealousy, love and a very believable pair of main characters. For those not in the know, Hassan is the son of Amir’s father’s Hazara servant – so the boys are the same age, and very close, but in very different circumstances. Perhaps their relationship is best shown in the sport which gives the novel its title – Amir flies his kite in an important local competition; Hassan is one of those who run after the cut-down kites, to keep as prizes. Hassan runs after them in order that he can give the kite to Amir – and his loyalty is such that he will endure much rather than relinquish the kite.
There is an event about 100 pages in which changes the lives of the central characters, the nature of the relationship, and the rest of the novel. To be fair to Khaled Hosseini (the author) the event doesn’t feel signposted in any way. I’m always annoyed by pages which scream “Look! Most Important Event Happening Here! Get Ready For Everything To Change!” But after it happens, the main force of the novel is lost. I waded through the remaining 200 or so pages with some interest, but The Kite Runner had rather, ahem, run out of steam.
And it got me thinking. Much of the reason I didn’t enjoy the second half of the book, aside from its having lost momentum, was the violence and gore it involved. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a slasher-horror or anything, it was just rather too much for a reader with as squeamish an imagination as mine. I think that political situations are best told through character, rather than graphic description. It’s easy to write something fairly disgusting (it’s farcically easy to write something which will make me feel ill) but difficult to write in such a way as creates true empathy.
So what was my pondering – it was about novels being challenging. Challenging mindsets and emotions rather than using long words, of course. I’ve always just assumed that they should (sometimes) be challenging – and in some areas I still do. I love it when novels change the way I think, especially the way I think about people, but I will no longer feel guilty for squeamishness. I always thought the fault was with me, being put off by novels too ‘challenging’, whilst now I think they’re just difficult to read without feeling ill.
Hmm. I’m still not entirely sure, though.