29 April 2007

What endears us to the novel?

In a sort of confession, noted Victorian novelist George Eliot, in her book ‘Adam Bede’, wrote, “it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings.” Thereby, giving us an insight into (at least one of) the techniques novelists use in writing their fiction. They make things up. They lie.

I find this phenomenon interesting because, although we, as humans, are known to be seekers of the truth, we seem to thoroughly enjoy reading a novel; and some of us, writing one. Which, I suppose, explains the thriving business in published fiction; but it makes me curious.

What endears us to the novel? Why do we look for its companionship? Why do we study it in schools and colleges, and even after? While thinking about these questions I was reminded of a recent conversation I had with a friend.

When I mentioned a novel I read recently to a friend, the friend asked, “What’s the story about?” This prompted me to narrate the storyline, the plot, the ‘what happened’ in the story, including the plight of the main character, leading to the final resolution. I didn’t just narrate ‘what happened’ in the novel, but actually ‘what happened to whom’.

Perhaps this was because characters (and characterisation) are critical to a novel’s success. No matter what the novel is about, it’s the main character(s) in the story which we find most engaging and intriguing as readers. The more we identify ourselves with the main character(s) of the story, the more involved we are with the novel.

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