Resident bookworm Anam Sufi discusses the fictional characters she'd like to have over for a spot of dinner. Do you agree? Leave a comment with who you'd like to see come to life from the pages of your favourite books.
Fictive literature is a parallel world that allows us to escape the mundane reality of our everyday. In life we are often disheartened and let down by those who we interact with, and why is that? Perhaps it’s owed to the fact that everyone is a distinct subject to him/herself. Existentialism is all well and good insofar as it does not tread the boundaries of someone else’s existential gravity. It is frustrating and boggling to try and understand people, in fact, isn’t that what all failed relationships are about anyway? Miscommunication? I believe that this is why we often find ourselves so intrigued by characters we meet in literature. Their organs are composed of ink spills and punctuation, and their breath provided by the parting of our lips. We offer them life. Sure, we are guided by the words, the blueprint, provided by the author in trying to construct the animate from the inanimate, but ultimately what attracts us about such characters is the promise of intimate understanding between us and them.
I have often experienced that harrowing sense of an ending while reading a book, the portent of thinning pages that translate into the loss of a world and the characters within it. But with everything in life, I suppose such temporality is what makes the experience worthwhile… And then of course there’s the reflective aftermath where you think back on the people of the story, the world in which it is encased, and the meaning behind it all. But the purpose of this article is concerned with the question of characters. I probably sound crazy by now, referring to unreal people as my friends but truth be told, I have often wondered whether or not I would get along with certain characters or not; would we be besties? Would we be soulmates? Would we be enemies? Thus, it was this line of thought that led me to construct a list of ten (mind you, not a “top ten” –as the treasure trove of phenomenal characters in literature is just too vast) characters in literary fiction that I would love to have lunch with, and why.
Enough of this hefty introduction, behold my reasoning…
Midori Kobayashi (Norwegian Wood):
Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is one of my favourite books of all time for various reasons; the least of which is the incredible way in which he brings his characters to life. While reading this book I found myself crying, laughing, smiling, frowning, and fawning in accordance to the emotional conditions of each character, yes, even the most insignificant to the plot. So naturally, you can imagine my attachment to someone as central to the story as Midori Kobayashi. She is the embodiment of positivity and life. As a woman who has just completed her higher studies, I see in Midori all that I wish I could have done and been myself. Maybe such a statement doesn’t apply to her dress sense or “day-by-day” concern for things, but I admire and envy the freedom with which she goes about living. Perhaps its owed to having lived in various countries where society stigmatises women with such confidence, but I couldn’t help but view her character with a sense of pride and conviction in terms of how she represents the attitude all human beings should aspire to attain. Thus, she most definitely merits being on this list. Although, let’s be honest… I would probably skip lunch and have her and I go on some sort of adventure involving a man with a blue beard and an alley cat showing us the way. Oh, and I like to think her and I would become besties.
Lord Henry Wotton (The Picture of Dorian Grey)
The Picture of Dorian Grey is a classic in fictional literature. Infused with philosophical musings from start to finish, the novel forges a place in the hall of metaphors for expressing the perils of a life that praises hedonism and vanity. While I love the story itself, my favourite character is not Dorian Grey, rather his tragically influential obsession; Lord Henry Wotton. Lord Henry Wotton is one of the most interesting characters in literature. A self indulgent aristocratic hedonist, he lives in a context where the world is his oyster. He travels through people, pollinating them with bombastic dialogue and conversations about life, beauty, vanity, liberty, and an array of other things. But he himself does not care for those he interacts with. In a word, I would call him manipulative. But to describe him as such would be to limit to scope of brilliance that he embodies. I think what attracts me so entirely about his character, is the way in which he uses language to romanticise the points that he tries to make.
I know what you are thinking, he sounds like a bit of an asshole. But that’s exactly why I would love to meet him in person! What a refined asshole he is! I mean who wouldn’t want to have a chat with someone who casually says things like: “Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”
Ah, Lord Henry Wotton, I would love to be manipulated by thee. If only to see whether or not I would succumb to the poison of your lips and the corruption of your thoughts.
He’s so suave. He saves the world. He has nice cars. Yes, this one appeals to the gold digging superficial in me.
Despite having so much respect for someone who can rep a trench coat and the same hat all day and every day, my interest in having lunch with Sherlock Holmes would be to have him save me a lot of money from going to a psychologist. I’m pretty sure with a minute of conversation and a scan from head to toe, he would be able to tell me what keeps me up at night and how to be at peace with all that. But apart from my selfish reasoning to meet him, he’s such a genius. Who wouldn’t want to be in the company of a man who is so awkward that it is charming, and a man whose arrogance is (for once) well deserved.
The Mad Hatter (Alice In Wonderland):
I know what you are thinking; Jesus, how clichéd, how typical. But hear me out, because my reasoning goes beyond the trend of hailing him a beacon of drug abuse and the oddly coveted state of “insanity.” I think it’s sad that his character has been reduced to such a rudimentary understanding, as there is so much more complexity associated to his behaviour. He is, as his name suggests, mad. But infused with melancholic dialogue that is both philosophical and nostalgic, he emerges as someone who we are interested in not only for what he is, but for what or who he might have been. Who was the Mad Hatter before he was mad? What happened to him that left him in a state of defeated insanity? These questions are presented through the literature, but are not answered. After all, the story is about “Alice” in Wonderland, not the trials and tribulations of a Mad Hatter. For this reason, I would love to be invited over to casa del Hatter for a cup of tea. Even if a pestering bunny kept nagging me for time, I’d tell him to busy himself while I appeased my curiosity concerning the Mad Hatter’s past.
Rodion Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment):
One of the most memorable characters in literature, Dostoyevsky’s Rodion Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment would make for a fascinating dinner companion. I would love to see if I could read the inner trappings of his psychotic mindset. I can’t say “I have always wondered” (because that would make me a creep) what it would be like to sit with a murderer, but I will say that it would be incredibly interesting. As someone whose conscience tends to get the best of them, I’d probably ask for pointers on how to keep my cool in sticky situations. Sure, it helps that he is ridiculously good looking, but what appeals to me about him is the way he fluctuates between altruism and apathy. How does one acquire a reactionary emotional spectrum of such a wide range? Don’t consider this a confession, but given the chance, I reckon I might even coax him into allowing me to be an accomplice to a new crime… orchestrate a kind of Tim Burton take on Bonnie and Clyde.
Stella (A Streetcar Named Desire):
She’s so flamboyant, so tragic, so blissfully (or not) ignorant, and so determined to shelter her sadness, that I would want to meet her for the sole purpose of giving her a hug. I believe beauty is borne of ugliness. This is because for me, the most stunning aspect of man is his ability to adapt to circumstances that mar and forcefully modify his expectations. Stella personifies all of this and more, in what can only be described as a fascinating insight into the power of human perseverance. Her penchant for material things and aesthetic beauty is fueled by the heart-breaking disappointments that she has faced in life. And her border-line insanity makes her a character caught between the throes of dislike and sympathy. There are some people who feel more than others, and it is often those who experience the tethering element of reality most strongly. I’m not owning up to being a crazy, but I can relate my younger self to some characteristics inherent in Stella. For this, I love her. For this, I’d save her from Stanley.
Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye):
I know he makes for an odd choice simply because he is so emotionally and conversationally constipated. But Holden Cauffeild’s awkwardness appeals to me in a very “case study” / “lab experiment” kind of way. An aspiring writer, I am always intrigued by the black sheep, the one’s whose personalities surprise me and make me feel uncomfortable. Maybe he wouldn’t give me much to go on in terms of telling a story, but then again, maybe the lack of expression would give birth to a story itself.
Basically, he’s such a weirdo… it would have to happen. Oh, and I would love to try on his hat.
Iago is my favourite character in all of Shakespeare’s works. A master of manipulation, his envy is so strong and his plots so well studied, that he demands appreciation from even the most righteous amongst us. I’d want to ask him about his childhood and conduct a kind of debriefing in order to understand where such a venomous resolve started from. Apart from that, the manner of his speech is so cunning and so shrouded with irony that I can’t help but applaud his rhetorical mastery:
“So will I turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all.”
These words to encapsulate his tragic plan… oh what a deviant. He’s so full of spice, I would definitely suggest we go for Indian cuisine.
Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo):
Because he is so damn good looking. Just kidding. He’s a man of substance, one who has been alone and mastered the art of fighting with the quill as well as the sword. He understands the merit of timing, the arsenal of silence, and is an advocate for justice. A humble man of homeless proportions, he comes to riches and still maintains a soft-spoken demeanor. I think I’d propose to him if we ever went to lunch. Maybe even do something cheesy and hide the ring in the cake… CHEESE CAKE.
So that’s it folks, ten (not top ten) characters whom I would love to meet in person and have a lunch date with. I know I’ve stressed enough that these aren’t necessarily the “top” ten, but I just want to put it out there: there are SO many interesting people in the parallel world of literature; so many that I wish existed in the real world. These were just some of the names that came to mind for the purpose of this article. I’d love to hear from my readers (all three of them) about who their list would consist of, and why.