Book Quiz: What do “Game of Thrones”, “The Shipping News” and “The Other Boleyn Girl” all have in common?

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

*** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT ***

Okay folks, just warning you. If you’ve pledged for Midland - or plan to - and you don’t want to find out about the relationship at the heart of the book, then STOP READING NOW.

Otherwise, read on. Midland is not a thriller; personally I don’t think it matters whether or not you know how it ends before you start reading it. It’s not that kind of book. But the choice is yours.

So, if you’re still with me, back to our quiz. What do George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones - A Song of Ice and Fire, E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News and Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl all have in common? And, for that matter, Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Virginia Andrews’s Flowers in the Attic, John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet, Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk, Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada or Ardour: A Family Chronicle, James Ellroy’s White Jazz, Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, Helen Dunmore’s A Spell of Winter, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things all have in common?

Or, for that matter, William Shakespeare’s King Lear, Hamlet and Pericles?

You’ve surely guessed it by now. The answer is, of course, incest. All these books are, in greater or lesser part, about incest in one form or another. Often called “the last taboo”, it’s threaded through literature right back to its origins in religious mythology (the Greek and Hindu myths are of course shot through with it, not to mention the Bible). It has fascinated us for millennia, has been forbidden by most societies for about as long, and like most things that have been forbidden for a long time, it is currently being reexamined by modern society.

Because like most cultural phenomena, incest has shades of grey (um, not fifty shades, thankfully - a book that if you noticed I did not include on my list). The plot of Midland is coloured by one of those shades, in the form of a rare and little understood condition known as Genetic Sexual Attraction.

Here’s the science bit. GSA, as it’s commonly referred to, is thought to occur when biologically-determined assortative mating drives are not dampened by the learned kin recognition constraint known as the Westermarck effect. The condition particularly affects siblings and half-siblings separated at, or soon after, birth. Should they meet again later in life the sense of mutual recognition can be quite overwhelming, and may manifest as a powerful sexual connection. Once the individuals concerned have experienced this intimacy, they can find it all but impossible to form subsequent successful romantic attachments.

I don’t want to write a long essay on GSA here. I haven’t made an academic study of the condition. My interest as a novelist is less in the specifics of the condition itself than in the shock waves it can send through the lives of those even peripherally connected to it. Midland is my attempt at capturing such an event; it is my essay on the unexpected consequences that GSA can have, and it also contains my thoughts, such that they are, on its moral dimensions.

For more information on GSA, Wikipedia is a good place to start. There is a private online support group for those affected by the condition, and the After Adoption clinic in Manchester has specialised GSA counsellors. One of them is featured in the YouTube clip from the documentary Incest: The Last Taboo, which I’ve included above.

For more information… well you’re just going to have to wait for the book to arrive. The faster it’s funded the faster you’ll get it, so please tell your friends to come and pledge for a copy!

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