By Ekta R. Garg
February 25, 2021
The Test by Sylvain Neuvel
Release date: February 12, 2019
Genre: Political fiction
Many years ago, as I read The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan for the first time, I sobbed as I found out that one of the characters suffered an attack. In the fantasy series the Wheel of Time, Jordan’s rich, three-dimensional world, several different groups of people have various powers. Through a variety of maneuvers, it’s possible for people in those groups to be cut off from those powers and (at least for several books into the series) for the power to be gone forever.
One of the characters I’d bonded with—Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat of the White Tower in Tar Valon—experienced this cutoff. It’s basically half a step above death. I cried like a baby when it happened.
I bring this up only because I read a lot, and one of the perks of doing so is that I’ve experienced some wonderful adventures and stories. On the flip side, I’m a little…I don’t necessarily want to say “jaded” when it comes to experiencing genuine emotion at a story. More experienced, I think. Also, as a writer and editor myself, I’m familiar with some of the “tricks” writers pull out of their hats to accomplish certain story elements. So maybe it’s fair to say I go into books with a more informed position.
When I read The Test, I didn’t cry out loud. I was in too much shock to cry. The audacity, I couldn’t help thinking in my knee-jerk reaction as a reader, wounded and offended and up in arms at the big reveal about what the titular Test in the novella really is.
The audacity, I thought in awe as a writer. The fact that Sylvain Neuvel didn’t hesitate to dig to find a person’s darkest fears and then put them on display. He showed us what we’re capable of doing as a society if we’re not careful. If we let those fears get the best of us.
Yet it’s exactly this kind of writing that gets readers’ attention. Two weeks ago I mentioned how a reviewer on Amazon rated the book two stars for the fact that it gave them nightmares. To me, that sounds like a five-star book. Think about it: a story so powerful it delves into your subconscious and stays there even as you sleep.
I know the reviewer didn’t mean it as a compliment; hence the two stars. But if I were Sylvain Neuvel reading that review, I would take it as one. I’d feel sorry about the nightmares, of course, but a small part of me would also say, “Yes. I’ve written a story that makes people feel something deeply.”
All of the best artistic endeavors have the same effect; they make people react.
As a Dreamer, as I’ve mentioned many times on here, I have the same intense desire. I want to write stories that are widely read and enjoyed, that have a profound effect on readers and that make them want to keep reading. I’m not so concerned about bestseller lists. They’re a little biased and skewed because of mass purchases by various groups. Also, how many times have we heard about a novel or even a movie that the “critics” (sitting up in some white castle, no doubt) said was ridiculous or stupid or just plain bad but was loved and lauded by readers/viewers?
Guess which opinion matters more to me?
Critics in stuffy suits or buildings don’t create relationships. Readers do. Readers and characters and writers.
That’s my dream, my eternal wish. I’m sure, by now, all of you have understood that this will be the running theme of pretty much any Dreamer entry. Because it’s true.
I Dream to be as audacious as Sylvain Neuvel. I don’t know that I’ll write a political thriller—because, in some ways, this is exactly what The Test is—but I do know that the best kind of writing and the most emotional bond comes when the writing is honest and brave. When it peers over the edge of the cliff and then jumps.
That’s when readers cry and shake their heads. When they have nightmares. When they flip or swipe pages long into the night, convincing themselves they can read “just one more chapter,” no matter what kind of job or responsibility might be on the line the next morning.
I long for bravery and honesty in my writing. For audacity. For truth.
And that’s exactly what The Test gives us.