.Exposed; Like An Open Book
Written by Najla Hamadeh
Books speak the truth, even when everyone else is silent. Apart from being a medium of self-expression, works of literature have always aimed to reflect society’s mindset at various moments in time. Relatability – if only to attract readers and sell copies – is key, and that means exposing the reality of life. Therein lies the battle between truth versus lies, and public versus private. It’s increasingly difficult to hide parts of ourselves because of this age of social media where nearly every aspect of our personal lives is on display.
The following books list everything from being a victim of war to being shunned by the society for adultery, from aspects of paedophilia and hebephilia to unfiltered narcissism and egomania.
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
Set in mid-17th century Puritan Boston, Massachusetts, USA, the protagonist Hester Prynne has an affair with the local pastor; when she falls pregnant, she is ostracised from the community. Made to wear a red ‘A’ on her clothing to remind people of what she has done, she relocates to a cottage at the edge of town with her daughter. The ‘A’ (for ‘adultery’) is supposed to act as a humiliating exposure – and a physical manifestation – of her sin.
The Diary of A Young Girl – Anne Frank (1947)
This world-renowned autobiography – of sorts – was originally written in Dutch in the form of diary entries. Anne began writing two days after her 13th birthday in a red-and-white checkered notebook she received as a present from her parents; she detailed what life was like, hiding for two years with her family during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. She found refuge in writing and exposing the truth and reality of her situation, posthumously becoming one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust. This is a more literal interpretation of exposure in literature, but nevertheless it hones in on a specific ordeal, exposing the intricacies of a suffering experienced only by some.
Filth – Irvine Welsh (1998)
Told from the perspective of the main character, Bruce Robertson, a detective sergeant in Edinburgh. We immediately find he leads an intensely debauched life: he is amoral, racist, misogynistic, manipulative, indulges in cocaine and alcohol abuse, and is part of a sexually abusive relationship. He is assigned a murder case and the book details his gradual decline, unveiling a drug addiction and bipolar disorder diagnosis. In a dramatic exposure, the ending reveals that he committed the murder his team was assigned, and that his colleagues secretly knew; his suicide concludes the plot. If any of this sounds remotely familiar, you might have seen the book’s 2013 film adaptation starring James McAvoy.
The Enchanter – Vladimir Nabokov (1986)
This novella is the lesser known ‘sister’ of Lolita but is presumably what inspired the famous iteration. It was written in 1939 – 16 years before ‘Lolita’ – but upon moving to America, he lost the manuscript – it was recovered in the late ‘50s after Lolita’s publication. Honouring Nabokov’s wishes, his son later translated ‘The Enchanter’ into English and published it in 1986, nine years after the famed author’s death. It and ‘Lolita’ feature a very similar plot: a man marries an unattractive widow in order to indulge his paedophilic obsession with her young daughter. Yet in this book, when his new wife dies, he carries the daughter off to a motel and, while she sleeps, stands over her, exposing himself. She awakens and, seeing him in his semi-naked state, screams, bringing people in from the neighbouring rooms. He runs out and gets hit and killed by a passing vehicle. Despite the similarities with ‘Lolita’, ‘The Enchanter’ exposes the reality of the paedophilia storyline: ‘Lolita’ almost romanticises it with Dolores’ seductive behaviour – her flirtatious nature, her unnatural reaction as a young girl to a much older man’s hebephilic obsession with her. Her behaviour seems unrealistic, whereas the reaction of the girl in ‘The Enchanter’ in the final scenes seems more appropriate and believable.
The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield (2006)
This 2006 novel is about an aging famous author who has lived her entire career shrouded in secrecy, despite being harangued by the press to respond to the rumours surrounding her. With her health quickly fading, she employs an amateur biographer to write about her life and finally uncover what she has fought so hard to keep hidden. Both women are chained down by their pasts, the weight of dark family secrets, and haunted by ghosts they thought they were rid of – all of which are exposed in the book’s ending.
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde (1890)
Most of us know the infamous story of the handsome Dorian Gray, a narcissistic and amoral man who led an extremely debauched life; after having his portrait painted, he essentially sells his soul to ensure that the picture, rather than he, will age and fade. The novel itself discusses the idea of aging gracefully and is symbolic of the steps we take to defy age, exposing our sometimes hedonistic tendencies. We spend our childhood and teenage years wishing we were older and could be taken seriously. Once we are older and have become jaded by life – seeing before our very eyes that beauty and innocence fade – we cling to the image of youth. In an attempt to revert what time has done, we have our anti-aging ointments and surgical procedures, and Dorian has his painting. Though this novel was written 128 years ago, its relevance remains: human nature is innate and, no matter which time or place we found ourselves in, emotions transcend historical events and isolated situations.
A similar book to that of Dorian Gray is the ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. Where the former deals with our inherent vanity and ego, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel looks at the duality in our personalities: no one is just ‘good’ or ‘bad’, a ‘Jekyll’ or a ‘Hyde’ – most people live in shades of grey. Both books operate in the same vein – both are universally applicable in the sense that the everyday person can relate.
Written by Najla Hamadeh