A phenomenon in reading

It may seem funny or even marked exaggeration to those don’t read much or with not much passion but something you come across in a book about something happening to a character or even said of them may have the effect (in real life) of a hearing or coming to know of something that packs the power of a strong punch in the stomach, a vicarious pain as such (though there are two occassions at least when I have felt vicarious pleasure – Sami and Meisoun’s wedding for one).

This may also happens in dreams. There are a few times I have woken up and struggled to recall more details of the mental bubbles which had caused inexplicable feelings of anguish and wistful sadness…. but this is a topic more suited for Dr Freud and his ilk and let me concentrate on the written word.

This is not a situation unique to me. Those who have read the engrossing Frederick Forsyth thriller “The Odessa File” might recollect how the hero Peter Miller reacts at a particular point, while reading the diary of Salomon Tauber, an old Jewish survivor of concentration camps who has committed suicide. Miller is so overcome at something that he has to stop and take a deep breath (several, I would venture to guess) before he can continue – and needless to say, what he reads set him on a mission that is the central plot of the book.

I wouldn’t go to that extreme but what I read this morning (May 15, 2011) – a brief sentence in Donna Leon’s “A Sea of Troubles” – a book I had been searching for long after being captivated by what its blurb promised (and was lucky to obtain from an online bookseller) – was so unexpected and unwelcome that I feel that the sentiments it engendered in me were not much different from what must have passed in the book’s hero, the good Commissario Guido Brunetti.  Brunetti took it unflinchingly, while I had to put down the book and stare sightlessly in the distance for some time before I recovered enough equanimity to continue reading.

Well, what it was, you won’t learn from me, since it is a delicate matter and has a correspondence in the real world too. Why it affected me is something I have to further dwell over, but my initial understanding is that the shock was reading something in black and white your mind refuses to countenance, even if realising in the conscious mind that there is nothing you can do about it…… even if the king sent all his horses and men.

Well, let it go at that we should commend the art of an author who can create characters that so attract us that we begin to care so much about them and their mention in a profane way engenders a storm of emotions, starting with disbelief and ending in anguish. For that matter, some people like this in real life where the same situations apply, and some equally close and preferred but strangely exempt from this phenomenon. But then that is a cross that I…we bear sadly as we wend our way through this sad charade called life…..


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