Whilst I might splutter on about a book—attempting to justify my obsession with it—more often than not my intrigue lies with a particular character. These characters range from the sweet, innocent-minded to twisted, obsessive creatures. Who are these characters? Well…
Ingrid, White Oleander, Janet Fitch
Whilst the novel is not from Ingrid’s perspective, and she is not predominantly present in the book, Ingrid is central to the entire story. Just like a ghost stalking its victim, Ingrid causes chaos for her daughter, Astrid, from behind bars. Convicted of murdering her lover, manipulating her daughter, wooing visitors; you cannot help but be attracted to this chaotic character. Her selfish intentions are evident from her every move, and her maternal care (or lack of) is notable from the start. Although Ingrid is a poet, and passages of her work are recited in the novel, what I found memorable about Ingrid was her relationship with Astrid. In particular, the last time they met each other. Each time Ingrid appears in the book, I find myself paralysed—like an animal silently watching its attacker, waiting for it to pounce—terrified and fascinated at what she will unleash.
Embodying quote: “I hate this look, by the way,” she said. “You’re a Sunset Boulevard motel, a fifteen dollar blow job in a parked car.
Leo, The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley
From the start of the novel an undeniable weight is placed on Leo’s past. An inarguable haunting lingers on the page. Leo suppresses his memories from his childhood in order to try and forget the tragic events he was forced to take part in. What I find tragic about Leo is that after so many years he is still haunted by the past. The sweet, innocent nature that seeps from Leo is taken advantage of by Marian and Ted—who use Leo’s naivety and willingness to please to make him a go-between for the two lovers—which is a trajectory for the ultimate tragedy in the novel. Whilst the first line of the novel is striking, upon concluding the book I could not help but be horrified at how the following quote embodies Leo.
Embodying quote: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
Joe, You, Caroline Kepnes
I cannot help but draw parallels between Joe and Nabokov’s character Humbert from his novel Lolita. Similar to Humbert, Joe is obsessed with a girl (well, technically a woman); however, what I found strikingly similar between Humbert and Joe is their use of prose. Beautiful language drips from their tongues. They are both manipulative, silver tongued, obsessive characters. As repellent as Joe’s actions and thoughts are, I could not put the book down. His obsession with Beck is both fearful and captivating. Despite all of his actions—breaking into her place, stealing her stuff, watching her have sex, hacking her emails, killing people close to her—I found myself falling under his silver-tongued spell. With haunting ease, Joe is able to explain away all of his actions. Even reading all his internal thoughts—giving him nowhere to hide—he is able to sway readers. One of the most disturbing aspects about Joe is the address of his inner monologue—a brilliant technique on the writer’s part by bordering second person perspective—is Joe’s inclusive language of “you”. Whilst he is addressing Beck, it almost feels while reading the book that Joe is addressing the reader; that somehow Joe has also invaded your privacy.
Embodying quote: “Before you there was Candace. She was stubborn too, so I’m gonna be patient with you, same way I was patient with her. I am not gonna hold it against you that in that old, bulky laptop computer of yours you write about everything in the fucking world except me. I am no idiot, Beck. I know how to search a hard drive and I know I’m not in there and I know you don’t even own anything resembling a notebook or diary.”
Charlotte, Likely Stories “Looking for the Girl”, Neil Gaiman
Charlotte is the object of the narrator’s obsession in Neil Gaiman’s short story “Looking for the Girl.” Charlotte is an enigma: a woman he first saw in a Playboy magazine when he was 19—the same age as Charlotte. As the years go by, he searches for Charlotte in every Playboy and one day he sees her again; however, her name is not Charlotte but Melanie—who is also 19. Time goes on and you see through the illustrations the narrator (and protagonist) age, but every glimpse of Charlotte reveals her to look the same. Her name changes, but her age does not: Melanie, Belinda, Lesley, Dawn; age: 19. Charlotte is a haunting presence; her changing name and constant age is never explained. The narrator’s obsession is not so much a sexual lust, or a romantic one, but one of longing. Perhaps he mistook it at first for one or the other, but it has changed over time. When the narrator finally meets Charlotte and takes photo after photo of her in his studio, you think that finally he will learn her secrets, but this revelation does not occur. The enigma of Charlotte lives on. The narrator so eloquently states his reason for not engaging with her or touching her at all because she was a dream, and if you touch a dream it vanishes. In the brief time the protagonist gets to spend with Charlotte, you notice her guardedness. Despite stripping down and being watched, she is untouchable: she is unattainable.
Embodying quote: “Charlotte?” “If you like. Do you want to take my picture?”