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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Love and the Reader-Self

Coat of Arms of the Sûreté du Quebec
I am a little behind in posting on both of my blogs this week because I am in love again. It's all there: the preoccupation, the what if, the setting aside of important tasks while I immerse myself in his world. I don't fall in love with fictional characters as often as I used to, but it happens, and then I live in a state of suspended reality until the book or, if I am lucky, the series has fluttered to a close.

This time, the object of my affectionate stalking is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of the homicide department of the Sûreté du Québec, and thankfully the recurring character in a series of novels by Louise Penny. Gamache is intelligent, dignified, courteous and compassionate-- a rare combination for anyone, let alone a homicide inspector.  His character is well-layered, becoming more complex and compelling with each page of each book. Rather than developing the psychological calluses that plague the stereotypical "hard-boiled" detective, Gamache becomes more thoughtful in his approach to witnesses and suspects, more aware of how the world's gifts of love and beauty can become burdens that become motives.

This is not the first time I've fallen for a literary character. When most girls were angling for prom dates, I was falling for Fitzwilliam Darcy. I had seen the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice with Laurence Olivier, but I didn't fall in love with him. It was the book's Mr. Darcy who enchanted me to such an extent that I read the book seven times the year I was fourteen, and of course many times after. Like E.A. Robinson's "Richard Corey," I imagined him as. "A gentleman from sole to crown/Clean favored, and imperially slim..." Mr. Darcy formed my ideal for many years, and in life I found myself attracted to men who were emotionally distant, mistaking it for reserve.

As in life, however, you can't go home again. You can't re-read a book with the same "eyes hanging out" novelty as you did the first time. You know too much. There are no surprises in the re-read book. Even though the text on the page remains the same, you have changed, and filter all those fairy tales with jaded eyes.

And yet, I re-read books all the time, and I know I'll re-read the Gamache series. In fact, I've come to judge a book's quality based whether it can be re-read with any further enjoyment or insight. The Grand Sophy? Yes. John Carter on Mars? No. Re-reading is different, of course. I focus more on language and the subtleties I missed the first time and fourth. I even re-read Pride and Prejudice from time to time, especially this year as I write my sequel. I still find a thrill in the scene where Mr. Darcy shows emotion for the first time, when he discovers Elizabeth distraught over Lydia's elopement. His reserve breaks down: '"Good God! what is the matter?'' cried he, with more feeling than politeness..." Such a simple line with such great impact.

I wonder sometimes if my reader-self, she who enters a variety of worlds unafraid, isn't the real me, the one I've never achieved in real life. There's no one to perform for or conform with. It's all right to be surprised by the event I didn't see coming. I can absorb everything, move slowly or run. Dream and see the dream come true. At least she's there on command, though. And perhaps I can someday become the reader-self in the life that's still being written.


  1. Astounding that you would take a shot at John Carter. Who next, Horatio Hornblower? So much for my reading list at 14!

  2. Not so astounding as trying to read it again.
    BYW, I thought you were still reading Caddie Woodlawn at age 14 ;)

  3. Merci, ma belle - how kind you are.