Friday, September 30, 2011

The Character List

So, today I'm going to tell the story of how I got over my fear/prejudice/book hangup about the character list.

I think the reason I used to avoid books which started with character lists was that I just didn't think I'd be able to follow a story which required a three page list at the beginning. And I don't think I understood why an author should feel the need to list - third pageboy in the House of Denmark*, as a character I might be remotely interested in.

Anyway, it happened in 2003 - yes I can be that specific. I was a big fan of the Stephanie Plum novels and Janet Evanovich was in London doing a panel at Crimescene. She was doing a conversation panel with Lindsey Davis. Now I admit - to my shame - that at this point I had never heard of Lindsey Davis or the Falco novels. BUT - Lindsey Davis was so good in the panel, and made her books and characters sound so interesting, that I decided at the book signing afterwards I'd look at her book and if I thought I'd like it, I'd buy it and ask her to sign it.

So I go into this area the Crimescene people have cordoned off, where they have the latest books from Lindsey and Janet, and I pick up The Accusers and open it.

OMG, the first page is a character list. :(

I'm really disappointed, because I wanted to find out about this character Falco. Then I read the list, (a little of which I've excerpted below).
M. Didius Falco - a principled informer (who needs the money)
Helena Justina - the guardian of his ethics
Julia Junilla and Sosia Favonia - their children (never ill; never naughty; never loud)
And I'm smiling - and that's only from reading the character list. How good is the book going to be, if the character list is making me grin? And my book hang-up is defeated. I'm not saying I suddenly like all books with character lists, but I have never since that time rejected a book solely because it had a character list. To prove my point, this year I bought Game of Thrones which has an ennooooorrrmous character list - though it's conveniently located at the back of a book in an appendix.

To finish the story I will just mention, that The Accusers is the 14th book in the Falco series, so before I actually got round to reading it, I had to buy and read the 13 previous books. But it was well worth it and it remains one of my favourite series. For anyone not familiar with the series and wondering at the strange names, it's set in Ancient Rome.

So - do you have any books that you'd recommend even though they come with a staggering amount of characters. Or are there books you've been discouraged from reading because you thought you wouldn't be able to keep up with the cast. Please let me know in the comments.

* - another made-up book. :)


Josephine Myles said...

Hi Lesley! I had to make my own character lists when I read War and Peace and Anna Karenina. I suppose there are probably some editions that come with them, but mine didn't.

The most useful things about this homemade list were I jotted down the number of the page when they first appeared, and the various permutations of their names so I didn't get too confused.

They're long and complex books, but well worth reading if you haven't yet. Tolstoy wrote fabulous characters.

LesleyW said...

Josephine - Hi. :) I've never been tempted by War and Peace, I know someone who has managed to get half way through. But I will keep in mind that I'll probably need a character list if I do get round to reading it. :)

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