The novelist, Hanya Yanagihara reflects on bravery
‘I began thinking of what “brave” meant when someone, a reader, told me my book was brave. I thanked him, because although I wasn’t sure what inspired the compliment, I knew it was indeed one. Later, I thought about what he might mean: was it because the book was unexpected (but that’s not bravery, at least not in my interpretation of the word)? When we say a novel is brave, what do we mean?
I sometimes wonder if what we’re really trying to praise is not the subject matter or the politics or even the aesthetics of the book, but the author’s ability, or even just willingness, to be impolite, to be messy, to be extravagant on the page. A novel can be perfect in its structure, in its logic, in its composure, but the most memorable novels, the most electrifying, are the ones that understand the necessity of imperfection, of ragged edges, of being distasteful, of making mistakes, of being demanding of the reader.
And yet, as readers, don’t we read fiction exactly to be upset? A novel, in its truest form, is a questioning of what it means to be human, of what a life is. But what makes it different from, say, a work of philosophical inquiry is, among other things, the way it uses (or misuses, or differently uses) language and, second, the particular sense of discomfiture it can provide. Not that a novel needs to disturb or dismay or unsettle in order to mesmerise or provoke, but it does, or should, force us to reconsider, to rethink. The fiction writer’s bravery, then, is her dedication to never second-guessing the reader, even at the risk of her own book’s likability; the reader’s bravery is allowing himself to trust the writer, to surrender himself to the world she has created.’
Hanya Yanagihara: ‘Don’t we read fiction exactly to be upset?’ The Guardian, Friday 4 March 2016 (from here)