Characters We Remember

Sunset in Sicily_by Villa Ghimette

Fleshy Breathers

I call them fleshy breathers—characters we remember long after we’ve read the book. They are flesh-and-blood real, larger than life, perhaps ahead of their time. We meet them at a point of no return in their lives and we watch, fascinated, as they pivot or sit there, all broody. We may have forgotten their names, but they and the events that entice them to change are a big reason why we keep reading books.

Fleshy breathers are born in imagination, strut their stuff in books, pop out every once in a while in our memory. We can see them waiting for the bus or walking down the block a few steps ahead of us, or remember them in the agony of their central conflict. I swear I’ve seen the white rabbit shooting down a manhole. They are amazing creations and have spellbinding stories to tell, and they go on and on.

We love them or love to hate them, but we’re not indifferent to them. They hold us in thrall. Full of longing, they carp, mope, dream, love or lament, have quirky habits, sleep too much or not at all. They change or sort of change or vow to change next week. They slip and fall. They make us fearful or frightfully angry, and sometimes they even disgust us. But because of the unique way they stumble about the page, they surprise, they shock, they stick to us like glue.

These are some of my favorites—at least for today—but mind you, as soon as I post this, I’ll think of others: Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment (mostly I want to ring his neck), Humboldt, Molly Bloom, Hamlet, Hercule Poirot, Andy Dalziel (the only character I know who breaks wind on a regular basis), Anne Eliot, Emma, Ahab, Jude Fawley, the Thomas Cromwell of Wolf Hall, and I mustn’t forget his wife, Liz, who, although she has a small part, is powerful; Sarah Berg in Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs, Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury, Jack Burden in All The King’s Men.

Who are some of your favorite characters?

Photo: Sunset in Sicily by Villa Ghimette (Flickr), Creative Commons.

4 responses

  1. Hi Susan. What a fantastic post. I, too, think of many characters like that. The slightest thing will bring them back to life for me and I find myself wanting to pick up the book again. Hamlet, for me, is one of the fleshiest – I studied the play in my teens and whenever I find myself procrastinating now, I think “remember what happened to Hamlet?!”

    Another character who has stayed with me is Mr Stevens – the dignified butler in the wonderful Remains of the Day. Ishiguro’s writing, and Mr Steven’s narration are so evocative, he (and Miss Kenton, of course) leap from the page and have buried themselves in my conscience. I love that books can do that. And I love that they’re figments of my imagination as much as the author’s. Films and plays can’t do that.

  2. Hi Susan. What a fantastic post. I, too, think of many characters like that. The slightest thing will bring them back to life for me and I find myself wanting to pick up the book again. Hamlet, for me, is one of the fleshiest – I studied the play in my teens and whenever I find myself procrastinating now, I think “remember what happened to Hamlet?!”

    Another character who has stayed with me is Mr Stevens – the dignified butler in the wonderful Remains of the Day. Ishiguro’s writing, and Mr Steven’s narration are so evocative, he (and Miss Kenton, of course) leap from the page and have buried themselves in my conscience. I love that books can do that. And I love that they’re figments of my imagination as much as the author’s. Films and plays can’t do that.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to reply, Mike! Either you replied in double or there’s something wrong with my blog, but your words are worth repeating, so I kept them both.

    Me too on Hamlet.

    I will have to read Remains of the Day now that you talk about Mr. Stevens. Was that the part played by Anthony Hopkins in the movie?

    • My pleasure, Susan. I was updating my details on WordPress at the same time as replying, so that may be why it’s appeared twice – I think I confused the system!

      You must read Remains of the Day – it’s one of my favourites and I think you’ll like it. Yes, Anthony Hopkins played Mr Stevens and Emma Thompson Miss Kenton. The film is also wonderful – a rare good adaptation, but the beauty of the book and Ishiguro’s writing means that the characters still take on a life of their own in my head.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: