People look to stories as a sanctuary — one that is filled with heroes that we could easily conjure when their presence is highly wanted. It actually took a long time for me to realize its amazing purpose, or more like it took me a long time to put a name to it. Alberto Manguel was right, we turn to books to find words for what we already know. I wonder what more things my mind is still unconscious of. 😉
Reading Little Women for the third time labeled it for me. Jo March lived in the comforts of her literary heroes so when the time came to put them away, she found reality an unmanageable task. It’s a great comfort to know you can summon remarkable characters at will — called for in happiness, sorrow, or perhaps when in want of an aphorism or two. In the case of Briony (yes, the Briony from Atonement) summoning these characters and giving them happy lives was her unique way of atoning. I’ve always wanted to read Atonement; ever since I’ve seen the movie (which was awesome, by the way), I’ve been dying to get my hands on the book so when I finally saw a copy of it at the bookstore, there were no hesitations. The title is just utterly perfect, I couldn’t think of anything more to name it.
For those who are not familiar with the story, let me just do a quick rundown. Briony Tallis, with her wildly imaginative and precocious mind, witnessed a seemingly uncanny scene between her sister, Cecilia, and their housekeeper’s intelligent son, Robbie Turner, by the fountain. Thinking of it more on the malicious side, she went on to tell a lie that altered their lives forever. The results of which were the untimely deaths and the unfulfilled love of Cecilia and Robbie… Okay, so my rundown didn’t make much sense so you might as well read it to experience its ingenuity. It’s written by Ian McEwan, by the way, who is quite a modern genius, I dare say.
Briony, being a writer herself, immortalized Cecilia and Robbie by letting them live in the story which she was yet to publish. It’s her one last noble and reconciling act. By letting them live and love as freely as they deserved, she was making amends for a sin she knew she could never undo.
Literary heroes. We all have them. So who’s yours?