I love characters that are so well-crafted I need to remind myself they’re fictional. All good novels have at least one such character.
If I did bump into one of these super-fictional characters at the supermarket, I’d be at a loss to know what to say. More hopefully I’d spy them at the local pub. Then I could buy them a drink and we’d easily settle into convivial chat.
Here are six characters from books I’ve read lately that I hope to run into at my local. I’d shout them their drink of choice. It’d be great craic.
1. David Hartley in The Gallows Pole
David Hartley is the brutal head of a gang of money forgers in Yorkshire at the cusp of the Industrial Revolution: ‘a man of smoke and peat and heather and fire, his body built for the hills’. Hartley, or King David as he likes to be called, built his counterfeiting empire through violence and intimidation. And while he is feared by everyone, his gang is fiercely loyal to him, conscious that while the powerful men in London neglect them and defile their countryside in the name of ‘progress’, Hartley is one man who can raise their prospects and promise them a better life.
I’d buy King David a pint of bitter (and then quickly run away).
2. Molly in The Nowhere Child
The Nowhere Child has been in the bestseller list for months in Australia and I’m positive it’ll make a splash overseas as well. It’s a fast-paced, well-constructed thriller, without a dead (female) body at the centre of it (hooray!).
Molly is the mother of Sammy Went, a toddler who is abducted from her home in Kentucky. The book alternates between the present and the period when Sammy disappears, and Molly’s character is developed incrementally through both these timeframes. She’s not a character you warm to at all (‘since Sammy’s disappearance, Molly had done nothing but cry and pray, the two most useless things to do in an emergency’), which is unusual given her status as the grieving mother. As the book progressed, I liked her less and less.
I couldn’t decide what Molly would drink so impulsively I tweeted Christian White, the author. Clearly he is AWESOME, as he replied: ‘I think her drink of choice would be cheap, CHEAP bourbon, but if you were buying she’d go top shelf. Having said that, alcohol is frowned upon by the church so she’d probably do her drinking in private.’ What a legend of an answer.
3. Mutt in Red Birds
It’s not often you get a story told from the perspective of a dog, and more remarkably, a dog that lives in a refugee camp in the Middle Eastern desert. Yet Mutt’s aphorisms about the humans around him is one of the less unusual aspects of Red Birds. Mutt is definitely the most likeable character in this book which offers up observations about US foreign policy and shines a light on the experiences of those caught up in its international power struggles.
I’d make sure the pub had a water bowl out for Mutt.
4. Rose in Hot Milk
Rose is the mother of the main character, Sofia. So yes, another mother character, but we’ve all got one and Rose is hilarious. Rose has suffered from an inexplicable illness for years, and unable to obtain relief from England’s doctors, mortgages the family home and travels to Spain to see a famous consultant Dr Gomez. Rose is clearly a hypochondriac and when she’s not being ill, spends much energy emotionally manipulating Sofia. Yet there are glimpses of something fragile and almost lovable in Rose that are not quite buried by her furiously childish and damaging behaviours.
Rose loves her wine, and I reckon she’d neck a few carafes of Sangria.
5. Hominy Jenkins in The Sellout
I could tie myself up in knots trying to explain The Sellout, let alone Hominy Jenkins. If you’ve read this book, you’ll immediately know why. Hominy is a hugely unsettling character – he only feels validated when he’s the object of the most egregious racism. When asked what he wants for his birthday “his answer was always the same: ‘I don’t know. Just get some racism and I’ll be straight'”. It took me a while to warm to the satirical, black comedic tone of The Sellout, but its ironic observations about racism in modern America are genius.
Whatever was served to Hominy would have to be accompanied by physical or verbal abuse, and ideally both.
6. Tom the bus driver in The Town
The Town is another peculiar book and you’re either going to dig the stream of consciousness style of writing, or hate it. I liked it (especially the first half). Tom is one of a number of characters who, as the The Guardian summarises, ‘are studies in failure of one kind or another’. Tom drives a bus that no one ever boards, around a town which is literally and figuratively disappearing and from which it appears no one can ever escape. It’s all very odd, but also weirdly compelling.
I think it would be Bundy Rum and Coke for Tom. Probably a double.
Which characters would you love to buy a drink for? What would you buy them?