• Carmen Milligan

Not all characters are people

I just finished watching a Facebook Live event from independent bookstore Parnassus Books. It was one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett, discussing her latest book, "The Dutch House". She told a joke about one of her friend's comments concerning an early draft of the book. This friend told Ann that she didn't like the name she chose for one of the main characters. Ann brushed it off because she really liked the name. Soon after, her editor and another friend told her the same thing - that name had to go. Ann said that her father used to say, "if someone calls you a jackass, you ignore them. But if three people call you a jackass, you go out and buy a saddle". This CRACKED me up!

Her talking about the house that takes front and center of her novel, and the fact that she did not want the house on the cover of the book, was very interesting to me. Even though it's called "The Dutch House", it was important that this key part of the story was imagined by the reader. There were several houses from Patchett's life after which she patterned her descriptions, but the construction was the reader's alone.

I really love it when this happens throughout the story of a novel, when an inanimate object becomes a character on its own. And when it's an entire building, even better! The other novel I remember impressing me with this literary technique was "The Girl Before" by J. P. Delaney. In that story, the austere house was a central character. As a matter of fact, the clean lines, hard edges, and minimalistic nature of the structure actually seemed to change the characters. They responded to the architecture just as if they were interacting with another person. Read my review here.

But I am not the first to see this. I ran across an article about this very thing on the CrimeReads website. The more I think about it, the attic in Anne Frank's "Diary of a Young Girl", the "manse" in "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?", and the tower in "Rapunzel" are all examples of very important structures which, without them, would change the story completely.

This may have to be an episode on the Bubbly Bibbly podcast!

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