IT WAS AN invitation no book reviewer could refuse. Several weeks ago, well in advance of the pre-Christmas turmoil, I and a dozen other regular reviewers of fiction for Book World received an invitation to participate in a holiday symposium on this tantalizing question: "Which character in fiction would you most like to be, and why?"
Not in the least surprisingly, none of those offered the chance to participate in this novel seminar declined to do so. For some, as you can see from the pieces below, the choice was easy; for others it was difficult, torn as they were among a number of characters who had managed to work their way into their hearts.
AS A CHILD, I longed to be the Scarlet Pimpernel, whose dreary, conventional life was merely a cover for the wildest (and noblest) adventures. Gradually, as I got older, I became Nancy Drew, and I still find that when I have to drive long distances by myself I turn into the Girl Detective, keeping an eye out for Abandoned Mansions, Lilac Hedges Wherein Lurk Mysterious Strangers, and the odd gypsy sobbing by the wayside. It takes great effort to imagine that my ratty sedan is a sporty roadster and even more to change my usual travelling companions, an Old English Sheepdog and a cranky orange cat (who cannot bear car trips), into Bess and George, Nancy's best friends and partners in crime solving. If I were to be sensible, I would say that today I would like to change places with Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet, whose wit and playfulness have led me to re-read Pride and Prejudice more times than I can remember. If I were not being sensible, I might become Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, because it is comforting to know that even in old age one can enjoy such simple pleasures as gardening and murder.