Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Racial Assumptions

I'm currently in the middle of reading Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, and quite enjoying it. It's so very like American Gods, and yet so very unlike it, largely because of the difference of protagonists.

The first book's hero, Shadow, is cool, quiet, strong -- never in control of the situation, but never quite at the mercy of it either. All through that book, a part of me was sure that Shadow would get, if not necessarily a happy ending, at least a glorious death worthy of a hero. By contrast, the second book's Fat Charlie is *painfully* human: always so easily mortified by the things that go wrong in his life that I wince in sympathetic pain pages ahead when I see which train is about to run him over this time. I have a quiet suspicion where his story goes, and that it's rather different from Shadow's.

But I'm "reading" these books on audio. (Which is how I'm getting most of my fiction these days.) It took time to get used to the first book's reader, whose gruff Middle-American accent was appropriate but so utterly unlike Neil Gaiman's voice that it grated on my expectations. The second book's reader, by contrast, is a verbal chameleon, sliding from accent to accent with great ease. (And whose base narrator accent *is* rather like Gaiman's.) It's lovely, but so good that I'm having trouble with my mental images of the characters.

The thing is, Fat Charlie, and indeed most of the characters, are pretty clearly black. The story doesn't make a big deal about it (indeed, race is more often mentioned for the white characters), but from context it obviously must be so. But he has a middle-English accent, and is living a relentlessly, blandly middle-English life, as are those around him. And I'm finding myself with the weirdest cognitive dissonance from it. The way the accents and behaviours work out, Charlie "reads" as a big, slightly thick white guy; Rosie as a very slightly plump redhead; Daisy as a petite blonde. Every one of these is clearly wrong, but the back-of-the-mind impressions are astonishingly strong.

I have just enough classic modern American liberal in me to be really rather bugged by this, in ways that are hard to define. I expect myself to be able to see these characters on their own terms, as they clearly must be in the story, but the British accent still twigs "white" to me. (Despite the Beeb's best efforts to break that assumption in recent years.) And it's hard to break: in my mind's eye, I'm having real trouble forming likely-accurate mental pictures of these characters.

Hmph. It always annoys me when my mind runs stubbornly along unintended tracks like that...
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded