Big Brother

Deborah Friedell writes:

The novel is a gesture art. We don’t need to know more about Mr Bingley’s body than that he’s ‘wonderfully handsome’, or (at first) that Hans Castorp looks like ‘an ordinary young man’. We couldn’t describe them to a police sketch artist and expect to get anything back. Gatsby, first spotted, is ‘standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr Gatsby himself’ – that’s it – while Daisy’s face is ‘sad and lovely with bright things in it’. We project, we fill in. Some writers hardly seem to give their characters bodies at all, or can’t make up their minds about them: Emma Bovary’s eyes are black in one chapter, in other chapters brown or blue.

(LRB 20 June 2013)

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