Sunday, 6 November 2016

Self-Harm in Fiction

As it is something I find interesting to read about as well as write about, I'm always looking for books, TV shows and films that deal with similar issues. It's rare to find something that does it well, which is why I keep doing it myself, because I want to add what little we have. Not that I believe I'm up there with any of the brilliant work I'm about to mention, but you have to aim high, right?

First I want to get the...less great stuff out of the way. There are very few books that include self-harm, but of the ones I've read, there are two that make it a huge plot point. Well, basically just the plot to be honest.

  • Scars by Cheryl Rainfield - This book sets itself up as containing a bit of a mystery, which works well enough, but the whole focus is really on the main characters self-harm. The whole story is inspired by real stuff, and no doubt it is realistic, but in terms of telling a story it's a little one-note. It just needed a little more of the actual story, maybe a good subplot. Also, the cover is very graphic to the point of being triggering, as well as being something that not many people would want to be seen with in public. 
  • Scarred (also known as Willow) by Julia Hoban - This one is a little better because there is some more developed characters, there's subplot and a little romance. the self-harm is handled well throughout - except how is begins and ends. The description of the first time Willow hurts herself is one that perpetuates some myths, such as the idea that self-harmers black out at the time or don't know what they're doing. And when she stops it's because her boyfriends insists that she can't be with him and cut, so he makes her through her stuff away. If someone read that and believed it was acceptable, that could be dangerous from both sides of it. Someone who understands and cares would not do that, you can't take away someone's coping mechanism and insist you are enough to fill the void, no one is able to do that. If someone wants to stop, and there is a loved one who can help then that is great, as long as they help to find a good replacement for it. 
With those out of the way, there are thankfully some really good examples of it being handled well. Sticking with books first,
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn - I've read this book twice in a fairly short time, it is one of my favourites for a whole bunch of reasons. Gillian Flynn is one of those authors who seems to be a well-adjusted, functional person who has a really twisted mind, and I mean that in the best possible way! This is a fantastic thriller, with a solid whodunnit, some intensely crazy characters. The main character, Camille, is an unusual type of cutter, something that isn't actually brought up until a quarter of the way into the story. By the the story is well established. The fact that it's about an adult who self-harms makes it rare and then the fact that it is written so well is wonderful. I've believed all along that this is better than Gone Girl so if you haven't read this yet, do it now! 
Moving away from books now, there are some good examples in TV and film too,
  • Short Term 12 - The world is now beginning to see what a talented actress Brie Larson is, but those of us who saw this little film when it first came out have known for a while now. She plays Grace, another great example of an adult who has been struggling with self-harm for a long time. Her struggles begin to show when she meets Jayden, a teenager who's life is surprisingly similar to her own. We get to see two women, ten years between them, deal with things their own way. I watch it at least a couple of times a year.
  • Homeland - Ok, I know, Carrie is not a self-harmer. Not in the traditional sense anyway. But I'm currently watching it from the beginning again and rediscovering just how brilliant the first couple of seasons are - the smaller scale, the is Brody a terrorist or not question. From the moment in the first episode when Virgil confronts Carrie about her medication and she declares that she is crazy, I loved her. This is someone who knows that she is often unstable but she's also incredibly intelligent and articulate. It's the first TV I saw where someone could be balancing mental illness with an actual life and career. Sometimes it isn't handled as deftly in later seasons but for the first two seasons without a doubt, it's the best. 
I hope that in a year or so I can write a similar post with even more examples, but for now this is all I've found. 

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