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Bioethics in the novel

· Jodi Picoult searches to give a voice to all characters of stories endeavouring to unravel many layers ·

Growing up on Long Island, studying for a Master's in education at  Harvard (taking courses by Carol Gilligan) and studying creative writing at Princeton, Jodi Picoult worked as a copywriter, editor and English teacher, before dedicating all of her time to narratives. Her literary career began in 1992 when, after various stories, she wrote the novel Songs of the Humpback Whale . She gave birth to her first child Samantha (with whom she co-wrote her most recent book, Between the Lines , 2012, with a dedication, rare in her work, to the teenage audience), then to two other daughters, with whom she lives in New Hampshire, together with her husband.

To date, Jodi Picoult has written, at a very fast pace ,20 novels which have been translated into 40 languages. My Sister’s Keeper was adapted into a fairly successful Hollywood movie with Cameron Diaz, directed by Cassavetes. Box office author, Picoult makes her mark as she endeavours to include bioethics in her novels.

The topics she covers reveal this. For example she writes about the issue of post-mortem organ donation  ( Lone Wolf , 2012 and Change of Hearth , 2008); autism ( House Rules , 2010); genetic diseases ( Handle with Care , 2009); marginalization and violence ( The Tenth Circle , 2006); adolescent problems ( The Pact , 1998); paedophilia ( The Perfect Match , 2002) which also includes abuse by religious; the definition of family and of parenting ( Sing you home , 2011); bullying and obsession with murder ( Ninteen Minutes , 2007, a post-Columbine novel), the death penalty ( Change of Heart ); a child conceived to save her sister ( My Sister’s Keeper , 2003), euthanasia ( Mercy , 1996); child abandonment ( Harvesting the Heart , 1993). Many of her novels have an unmistakable narrative style; the story is explored from all possible points of view, chapter after chapter giving voice to a different character (even unexpected ones). If on one hand, the style risks at length of being repetitive and simple, on the other it allows her to experiment by attentively surveying the complex nature of the theme.

If many of Picoult's novels are characterized by legal suspense, the result is the (all-American?) conviction that the law is the best ally of children in danger or in crisis. In fact her novels are full with minors in danger; children and teenagers who are sick, raped, killed, molested.  Despite the complex situation these children are surrounded by adults who are in many ways willing and able to help but who are often incapable and clumsy in facing these life struggles.

Hers is not high literature and various opinions are presented with a kind of Manichaeism (the complexity is not only found in the various points of view but also within those same points of view). And the stories are inevitably told guiding the reader to a particular position. Surely the novels of  Jodi Picoult have the merit of attempting to give depth to very complex issues which current debate (no matter the side) tends to flatten into sterile oppositions.




St. Peter’s Square

April 26, 2019