The story is there, the characters laid out, not yet fully alive, but stirring. The daily bombardment of falsehoods, the unstoppable flow of hate and lies are the sad background: is it not the writer’s duty to see through, to unravel, to show the lessons that could have been learnt? But who is she to claim to know? Who is he to claim some knowledge, somehow privileged to the “happy few”, as Stendhal once wrote?
Only the story should tell, only the characters should speak. Not by blaming the past – which is our present – but only by imagining what could be, do we have a chance to change the future…
Image: Statue of Liberty, courtesy http://travelhdwallpapers.com/statue-of-liberty-sunset/
masculus, mascula, masculum: male/masculine, proper to males; manly/virile
Reflecting on male characters… What influences us now in the development of a character? For a fiction writer the credibility of a character is important is it not? At least for the sort of fiction this writer fancies doing: fantastic maybe, but still anchored in real life. The speculation is about circumstances and events: those can be extraordinary, once in a decade, once in a century, or even more far-fetched. But good fantastic arises from the ordinary. And the characters must be credible. It is about you, reader, ultimately, you are the central character. But I am diverging.
If you are male, a male reader, what do you expect from a male character? And what if you are a female reader? What makes an attractive male character you may be tempted, or, better still, compelled, to identify with? And how has this evolved over time, say, since Stendhal wrote “La Chartreuse de Parme”? For example, James Bond belonged to the fantasy world of Ian Fleming, and probably drew more than one trait from the rat bag of more or less secret agents he must have known in the 40’s-50’s. But was Bond credible? Maybe he was for contemporary readers. How about Hiro Protagonist in Snow Crash (1992)? Can you believe in a sword-fighter/hacker/pizza-delivery-boy? But few readers would really believe in or identify with those characters surely? Did they a decade ago, twenty, thirty years ago? Strangely enough, still in Snow Crash, 15 year-old YT – the Kourier – is, for this ageing male reader, a more realistic human being (says a lot about this writer’s prejudices?)
What has “realism” got to do with a character’s gender? I happen to believe it has, but can’t pin down why exactly. Is “credibility” be equated with “realism”? Another wild guess: the male gender – as characters and perhaps reality go – has become highly undifferentiated, so that male characters have tended to slide into stereotypes: the heart-of-steel ninja, the ageing benevolent geezer, the serial killer, the lost writer? Is there a maleness “trend” in fictional characters?
#10 The Kindly Ones (Les Bienveillantes) by Jonathan Littell:
I have listed this harrowing account of evil as I was surprised by the description of Europe’s worst nightmare by a young American author, who, besides, wrote in French. This is a giant of a book, and the horror is not imagined, it was so.
#9 The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy:
A quintessential account of a horrific murder by a master of controversy. Somehow this book talked to me, and, yes, I felt for the Black Dahlia.
#8 The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C Clarke
Part from “inventing” the Space Elevator Arthur Clarke – who also predicted accurately the geostationary communication satellites – showed in this novel how to marry technology and spiritualism, a feat of fiction but also a lesson for living. I read it as an adolescent, and am still reading it.
#7 The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Well, it’s a classic. When I first read it – a few years back! – my English was still hesitant, and I struggled. A few years later (still well before the films) I fully appreciated what a masterpiece of language and adventures this was.
#6 The Magus by John Fowles
The mystery of youth, John Fowles’s first novel and to my mind his best. I travelled to that greek island in a dream, one of the inspirations for “The Page” (not a plug!)
#5 The Stand by Stephen King
Read it four times, and this is not the last time. One of the great novels of the second half of the last century, I am still in wonder. I cried for Fanny. I would have nuked the evil too.
#4 The Plague (La Peste) by Albert Camus
A unique allegory of what it was like in Europe under the fascist boot. Written in 1947, it is the account of ordinary courage and its opposite by a man of high values and principles. I think it’s as valid a read today as it was then.
#3 Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
Pynchon’s greatest book, set at the end of WWII in London and Northern Germany. This book typifies for me the absurdity of the last (hopefully) European civil war, a shower of rockets, the ruins of cities, yet humour and love. I fell for that mischievous Dutch girl, yes I did…
#2 A La Recherche du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust
My bible of introspection. The language is unique, the mix of longing, eroticism and splendour is irresistible.
#1 La Chartreuse de Parme by Stendhal
The greatest love story of all times! To my mind one the summits of Western literature. Period.