There has been a huge news story in our region this week. The tragic story of a young couple, out tramping in the mountains, the male partner dies tragically and his companion waits for three days beside him before making her way to a hut through metre deep snow. Once she reaches the hut she waits. She has frozen feet – frostbite pending – has no idea how to get the radio to work but does manage to get a fire started and writes HELP in the ashes. It takes almost a month until someone starts to worry about this pair and the consular office starts to ask questions about where they might be. This finally leads to her being found, and eventually today, the body of her partner being retrieved.
This story is real, and yet as I listened to the radio report of it this morning on National Radio, I saw it playing out like some of the post apocalyptic novels I have been reading. Because I’ve read all these stories of survival I kept imagining how lonely, how terrifying and how exhausting it must have been to have been in the position of this woman. Alone in a snowy if beautiful environment, avalanches going off. No way of escaping safely and hunkered down for the duration. In her case, knowing that outside the world was carrying on as normal.
So, what is my point? Reading fictional works gives you the emotional wherewithal to put yourself in the position of someone who is living the experience in the real world. Through reading fiction you gain empathy. Fiction can take you to a place similar to that of a real world experience and even though an author has imagined a situation, if they have done a great job, then you can find yourself recalling the feelings that you had when reading the novel and applying them to the real world scenario. Great authors are able to trick you into sharing an imagined experience, perhaps trick is the wrong word, but they are able to draw you into their make believe world and then while you are watching the news, watching a TV series or film, you have the words to sharpen the experience. I think that is one of the essences of reading for me. Words I couldn’t have come up with myself to explain situations and emotions that I’ve never actually experienced other than through the writing of someone far better at expressing ideas than me.
In the meantime I can only hope that this poor woman is okay, that she is given lots of support and love and that she is able to cope which this huge thing that happened to her.