The Importance of People

Radio Silence coverInstead of writing a straight-forward review of Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence I decided to write a post fangirling over how much I love the characters in the book. But okay, if you insist, here’s a review:

Radio Silence is ace, go and read it!

Now on to the real post where I want to talk about people, or more specifically, characters in books.

We’ve all probably read plenty of books that we can forgive for having too little plot (or too much plot) as long as the writing is beautiful. But to be fair, even if the writing isn’t a work of art in itself, we’re all willing to put up with a lot if the characters in the book aren’t just characters in a book, if they’re real people.

And no, I don’t mean a non-fiction book or historical novel, I mean a fiction book where the characters are so superbly and perfectly written that they seem like real people to us.

When I finished reading Radio Silence I knew that Alice had written amazing people because I could imagine having a conversation with Frances and I could feel passionately how much I wanted to slap Carol. The key moment for me came the day after I finished reading the book, all thanks to a boy on a bus.

I looked up and there he was, and for a brief moment I was confused because I couldn’t work out where I knew him from. But it was definitely him, Aled, sitting right there on my bus. He looked at me (possibly because I was starring open-mouthed like I was trying to catch flies) and looked shyly away. From his physique, to his hair, to his clothes…everything about him reminded me of Aled from Radio Silence.

And that’s how I knew.

Radio Silence isn’t just a beautiful story about one of the most important things in life (friendship), but Alice Oseman has also achieved the thing that I think all books should strive to do, have characters that are so perfectly crafted, so vivid, that they become real to you…and you get to freak out total strangers on buses.

Everyone reads for different reasons and the end result of how much we love a book depends on many factors that vary from reader to reader. For me, the characters are key. I want to know about the people I’m reading about, who they are and how they got to be the person they are. I want to understand what motivates them, keeps them up at night, makes them cry, makes them angry.

Jude The Obscure coverI don’t even need to like the character very much. Probably my favourite novel of all time is Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I dislike Jude for a lot of the story, Sue also irritates the hell out of me almost as much as I love and care about her. But they feel like real people, I think I understand why they do the things they do. I definitely don’t agree with the actions they take and their interpretation of events, but I can empathise with how they got to that decision.

When I read a work of fiction, yes I want to be entertained or be impressed at the beauty of language, but I also use it as a way to understand other people better. I read to connect with human beings whose lives are different from my own and who deal with situations in their own unique way.

The lives we’ve had a glimpse into in Radio Silence have stayed with me long after I finished reading. I want to find out how they’re doing now and what’s going on in their lives, and that’s why it’s such a superb book, because for a brief moment you can almost forget they’re fictional characters.

What are you thoughts about characters in books? Who are your favourite characters? Leave a comment below.

If you want to buy Radio Silence (and you should, it’s brilliant) you can buy it from Wordery and many other excellent bookshops.

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