I’ve recently enjoyed C.J. Flood’s Infinite Sky, a novel of rural England, but not the stuff of idyll. No, this is gypsies setting up home on someone’s land, bored out of their skulls vodka-drunk teenagers, poor communication between parents and their children (in particular), and trouble of the kind that involves hitting people on the head with bricks. The finale is emotional because it involves a death bed scene, and I’ve recently been involved in one of those myself. It is a scene if you are ever writing one, which needs to be utterly authentic.
The image in this book is one where the family prepares for death knowing that the ventilator is to be turned off. This got me by the throat and savaged it because I recall only too well that reality is nothing like the movies (or books). People may peacefully slip away but they still have ventilators and lines attached, and what really happens when someone dies is that the family weeps, and hugs, and hurts, and the dying person does not have ventilation removed, but merely has the oxygen decreased to a point where the body cannot work without the additional help. It is actually a terribly slow and (for those attending) painful process, even if the brain-dead individual has no clue what is happening (we simply don’t know that). The human body loses colour, turns grey, ages before your very eyes. There is no sense of romance, no unreality. It is, frankly, just horrible,
In truth, the human body loses colour, turns grey, ages before your very eyes. There is probably no major twitch, movement, sigh or shudder; you only actually know what is happening by the change of pallor and the bleeps on the machine indicating an arresting shortage of activity. You like to think you will know when the actual moment of death arrives, but in reality, you read the monitors and eventually realise the pulse and blood pressure rates are zero.
Do you need such detail in a novel? Probably not, certainly for most people. However, when you’ve been through it, then it certainly adds authenticity if it is written correctly, yet sensitively. How much fine detail in such circumstances is too much? An interesting question. I found myself wanting authenticity, yet distressed enough as it was re-living reality through fiction. A tough call.