A Note on Characterization & a Book Recommendation

Friday, March 21, 2008

I’m reading TEN THOUSAND LOVERS by Edeet Ravel and loving it. I’ve missed my stop on the subway three times in the two days since I’ve started the book. Synopsis:

Israel, 1970s. Lily, a young emigrant student exploring the wonders and terrors of her new land, finds the man of her dreams -- Ami, a former actor. Handsome, intelligent, and exciting, but like his beautiful, disintegrating country, Ami has a terrible flaw -- he is an army interrogator.

As Ami and Lily's unexpected passion grows, so too does the shadow that hangs over them. They must face the unspeakable horrors of Ami's work and their uncertain future.

While set in the '70s, Ten Thousand Lovers is a brilliant and terrifyingly contemporary tale of passion, suffering, and the transcending power of love.

And here's a real review (because I suck at them).

I’m only about a 1/3 of the way through, but unless this thing slips on a character/plot banana peel and goes tips over ass into a story mud-hole, it’s a keeper. The author’s voice is elegant and engaging and the characters likable and intriguing. There’s something in the language that reminds me of Judith Ivory. This is not a romance, though. It’s a love story/fiction. So I’m not expecting an HEA, and the love scenes are definitely fade to black/closed door. I wish they weren’t. I like the straightforward fresh way these scenes are handled.

The story flips back and forth seamlessly in time with the ‘older’ heroine talking of the time in the 70s when she met and fell in love with Ami. She’s also writing a book/memoir of that time and she’s a linguist so the reader finds the book is pepper with references to linguistic antecedents of the Hebrew and Arabic languages.

The exploration of language is important here, because you have a heroine who isn’t quite comfortable, or fluent with the language, and the hero, an interrogator, who uses language as his tool. She’s constantly asking clarification, of words and meaning and also asking many questions of him and his work. She also young (19/20yrs?) so this constant naiveté and gaucheness of the things she says/asks goes towards character.

For the hero’s characterization, there's a part in the book where the heroine notes-
‘…for Ami sex was tied in to conversation. He never stopped making conversation, even when he was on the verge of coming, or when I was. Mostly the conversation was related to what was going on: a running commentary on what he was feeling, observing, noticing. For example: ‘

And there follows 2 pages (no paragraphs) of stream of consciousness from the hero pre, mid and post, coitus. It’s funny, and also a bit erotic (in a somewhat clinical sense) since he’s is giving a narrative of their loving making. But here’s the hat trick, in a subsequent scene, the hero tells the heroine he’s just completed a 67 hour interrogation:

"What took sixty-two hours?" I asked him, in the car.
"The interrogation."

....Then a little later in the conversation,

"What did you do?"
"Talked to him."
"You talked? That's all? You didn't hit him?"
"I don't hit prisoners."

Wow. See that? The author had previously shown that the hero has been able to extract information for the heroine, whether by cajoling or by being a little ‘scary’, (even though he always presents this as being for her own good, and given his line of work, and her lack of sophistication, we can accept this), but the anecdote about the lovemaking was a brilliant stroke of characterization imo, because it truly shows that the hero *is who he is*, an interrogator. It's not just a job. He doesn’t turn it off.

I remember when I used to play the viola (junior high), my fingers were always running scales, or going through the movements of a peice, when I didn’t have my instrument in my hand. On my desk, my leg, the strap of my bag, anywhere there was a (semi)solid surface. Everyone else I knew in the orchestra/band had the same habit. That little mannerism marked us as musicians. It’s a tell and it goes towards characterization. Ami’s habit of narrating their loving making was one of his tells. Very effective taken with the random points of questioning he subjected the heroine to and the adroit way he evaded answering her own very pointed questions.

Writers should remember those tells.

Back to the book. Love the characters. Love the history and sense of setting, place, and love the tidbits of info in regards to the development of the Hebrew language. Didn't care too for when the author gets a bit too deep in the politics. I've got another 150 pages to read, so I'll probably pop into the comments of this post to give my final verdict.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin


vanessa jaye said...

ugh. This post could have done with a cooling off period and another edit. Sorry about the awkward/staccato sentences.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

2008 Vanessa Jaye | All Rights Reserved | Design by Katrina Glover | Back to top

You are visitor number:

web stats