The vital importance of beauty, truth and hope in books

The vital importance of beauty, truth and hope in books

As a card-carrying depressive, I’m not someone known for being an optimist. I’m sometimes like the love child of Marvin the Paranoid Android and Eeyore. It’s hard to not feel that the world is currently going to hell in a very large hand basket. I take breaks from the internet on a regular basis, hoping that the world beyond my small bubble will have improved by the time I go back; I retreat into the world of books and seek what solace I can find there.

I’ve recently finished reading a biography of Elizabeth Goudge. Beyond the Snow  by Christine Rawlins  is an exhaustive, and inspiring account of the life and faith of this most beloved of authors, and I didn’t want it to end. She had an interesting and sometimes very difficult life, though cushioned somewhat by her privileges of birth. Though she does not write much about it, it is known that she experienced severe mental distress and even breakdowns; this is reflected very much in certain books (such as The Scent of Water that I have blogged about here) and echoes in many others. There is compassion and bravery in her decision to write happy books.

Critics sometimes dismissed her books as “pretty pretty” and as light romances (they’re not) but the public bought them in their millions. She does not shy away from the difficult things, like death or loss of faith or suffering, but she offers a vision of hope, of redemption and of atonement too. The books are full of havens: places where people go to be healed, to rest and recover their strength and to go out again to continue their work in the world. There is faith, but it is built into the woodwork and rarely centre stage. There is kindness and care and hope, even in dark times. People make tough decisions, ones that reflect a code of ethics that is now rare.

In these dark times, I know that I am avoiding fiction that seems to revel in darkness and hatred. I’m trying to find books that are trying to be beacons in the dark, to be rallying calls to resist the lure of what Hopkins calls Carrion Comfort. I’ve read a few recently. I reread Sir Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch, my favourite of his Discworld novels; though it looks evil squarely in the face, it fights back. I have recently read a couple of novels by Jane Davis too. My Counterfeit Self  is an excellent and immersive tale of a woman who stayed true to her own beliefs and who fought for justice and social changes. The fact that the main character is a poet just adds to the charm for me. Smash All The Windows is a powerful (and sometimes very disturbing) account of a major disaster on the London Underground; the survivors and the families of those lost face huge difficulties in getting at the truth of what happened, and even greater challenges of transforming the grief into something that shines beyond all the pain and sorrow and loss.

In non-fiction, I recently read another book by Robert McFarlane, The Old Ways. It’s about walking and about the power of paths. I’d highly recommend it if you are someone who loved walking but whose health does not allow longer distances or more difficult conditions. There is great beauty and evocation of all the senses in McFarlane’s writing, taking you out of yourself and into another world of experience.

All of these books offer beauty and hope and truth without ever scuttling into whimsy and unrealistic withdrawal from the world. They’re books that strengthen your soul; they put shining steel into your limbs and the gold of optimism into your soul.

As for my own writing… Well, I’ve been limping along with several projects and having read Beyond the Snow, I have become convinced that to keep going as a writer, I must commit myself to writing books that are filled with beauty, truth and hope, however unfashionable, however bourgeois and some might say, naff, such a concept might be. My existing novels, all available from Amazon, are already books that I believe offer a haven and a support to battered souls. Despite the fact that it feels like the world has become so focused on capitalism that unless you pay for advertising, I do believe that people will find my books even if Amazon is steadily erasing all the opportunities that once existed for unknown independent authors to become known. I’m not sure how, though. I have less than three thousand followers on my Twitter, less than five hundred likes on my official Facebook page and around five hundred subscribers to this blog.

But that, perhaps, is not my business. My business is to find that beauty, hope and truth and let the stories weave themselves. That’s all I can do right now.

6 thoughts on “The vital importance of beauty, truth and hope in books

  1. This is lovely. I totally agree. Our job as writers isn’t to count followers or likes or even sales (though it is nice to be able to pay bills!) but to try to write good things and send them out in the world, and trust they will find the right reader/readers. You have made me want to re-visit Elizabeth Goudge – and I have bought some of yours on my kindle and must find it and re-charge it and read them for some beauty and hope and truth in these troubled times


  2. I quite agree with you. I have been having a bit of an Elizabeth Goudge binge lately, having discovered her via a recommendation, and have just finished the Eliots trilogy. Yes, her books do face trouble, pain and grief squarely, but they offer goodness and hope as well, as do yours, some of which I have read and enjoyed. I hope my own books do the same. It seems to me that this reflects reality more than the dark fiction we come upon so frequently. Cruelty, sorrow, all the rest are there- we can’t avoid them. But the good things are there too, and we have to battle to keep them alive and visible in our work..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is exactly what is needed in our collective responses to the admittedly vile times in which we live at present. Thank you so much for lifting our eyes up to see ?the hills? where, hopefully, there is God our help – or hope! Agree totally with Anne. And so easy to fall into cynicism surrounded by what we know is bad, and to loose hope that there is a true good which is not ‘pretty pretty’ or unrealistic simply fluff… maybe it takes those of us who struggle to discern this – I don’t know, maybe that’s just a theory! I must look at Elizabeth Goudge again – my Mum admired her, & it is possible that with books like hers people kept faith in hope during what was horrible – but gets glorified wrongly – the 2 world wars. Anyhow, thanks very much for encouragement – and I ‘soldier on’ as it used to be said with my 3rd novel, casting about for revealing some hope through that…

    Liked by 1 person

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