Thursday, 27 November 2008

Veggie Books: The House at Midnight

Lucie Whitehouse's The House at Midnight is an atmospheric read, but it does come with a few problems. However, it does have vegetables in it.

There was asparagus soup to start, then a huge joint of glistening beef that Lucas carved into slices so fine they were almost translucent. There were bowls full of roast potatoes, green beans, calabrese, parsnips, carrots. Horseradish circulated in a tiny silver cauldron with a blue-glass inside.

Yummy, huh?

It's pretty atmospheric stuff (old university friends, one inherits a house, mystery behind the house, relationships go pete tong, all gets a bit shotguntastic by the end) but I didn't take to it. I think the problem is the narrator. She's really unsympathetic to my mind, because she's so passive. She falls into a relationship because the bloke makes a move. Then another bloke makes a move and she snogs him. First bloke dumps her because he finds out, and then she waits for second bloke to contact her in order to start a relationship with him. First bloke takes pills so she starts hanging out with him again, even though that loses her a job she's meant to love. Where's the chutzpah? Where's the chasing after what you want? I wanted to kick her arse until she got up off the sofa and made some decisions for herself.

But this is my problem. I have a different definition of sympathetic. I find characters sympathetic when they move, and act, and have personality. That doesn't always have to be a nice personality.

I realise I'm alone in this.

What, to your mind, makes a character sympathetic? It can't just be moral goodness, can it? How boring.


Tim Stretton said...

Are you a Jane Austen reader, Aliya? What do you make of Fanny Price (snigger...) who has many of the same problems?

Aliya Whiteley said...

She's no Elizabeth Bennet. But she does do something; she cries more than any other heroine in a novel. Producing that many tears takes commitment. Think how dehydrated she must be.

Tim Stretton said...

Perhaps the dehydration is why she has so little energy.

Considering the dull dull dog she gets to marry, maybe everything is for the best.

Fiona Robyn said...

Interesting question. I think I want my characters to be believable above all else, and so they need to be at least a little bit screwed up. Maybe it helps if you can see where their not-so-nice/screwed up bits are coming from/how they make sense?

Aliya Whiteley said...

So you're a fan of the explanatory novel, Fiona?

I wish there was a way to write a new Iago and leave the explanation out for once. Even poor Hannibal Lector got explained away in the end.

David Isaak said...

Sympathetic? Bah. Compelling is what's required.

Hell, I'll even settle for interesting...