A few days back I published my review of Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill. One of the points I made about the book was the level of profanity - and this was the point picked up by those who kindly came to make comment on said review. It got me thinking on the subject of profanity in book - and the line which we all have (conscious or not) beyond which our comfort level has been breached.
Mine is 'cunt'. I hate the fact I've even written it there. I never use it myself and I don't like seeing it in the literature I read. This is the word that Adam Nevill used in Apartment 16 that I took such a dislike to - my personal line was crossed at that point.
Yesterday at Eastercon I had a very interesting chat with Jason (Kamvision) and Cara (murf61) on the subject.
Cara also has issues with the same word - so is it a gender thing? No, not at all, it seems, because other women who read my review disagreed on my point that the swearing was rife. Maybe some women feel more uncomfortable with that particular word, but to others it is absolutely normal.
Is it the particular genre? Jason felt that this might be part of the issue. I confess, I am not the most familiar with the horror genre, and so I do not know whether Nevill's book contains a lot of swearing in comparison to other novels in the same genre. In addition, horror is a genre where attempting to shock the reader is not uncommon and so using a word like 'cunt' can be said to be a part of this.
Is it the setting used in the novel? Some areas in London (and, indeed, the country) will see certain profanities employed over others. Again, Jason pointed out this fact and said that the word might therefore have been used to help cement and authenticate the particular location of Nevill's novel (in which case, he should be admired rather than castigated for using 'cunt'!)
I know that in my case familiarity does breed contempt. When I was youthful and much more innocent than now, the word 'fuck' in a book would send my jaw to my chin in shock, but these days I am so familiar with hearing it, seeing it written, speaking it myself that this word has lost any ability to concern me. However, to other people, this word is still way across that personal line that they have where they are no longer comfortable.
Just as another interesting point, I want to mention the fact that books are now pretty much the only form of media where there is no guidance on what age should be reading the books. The word 'cunt' in a TV show sends it way past the watershed time when it is expected that children will be up; in a film or a videogame it will guarantee an '18' rating. However, a child can walk into a bookstore or a library and take any book without their age being asked. Although it is not to do with swearing, I read Jean M Auel's books at a very young age - and the amount of explicit sex in them is just unreal considering that I was able to take them out of the library with no one questioning my age. At that point, you might say it is a parent's responsibility to monitor a child's reading - but that then depends on said parent reading everything their child shows an interest in to ensure they are comfortable with the subject matter.
I guess the only way I can conclude this rather free-form blog post is with the idea that we do have very personal opinions on this - what one person finds uncomfortable another person will be completely fine with.
I would be interested to hear the point of view of other people on this: profanity - yay or nay? Where do you draw your line?