Have you ever found yourself going somewhere in your mind that is completely familiar, vividly detailed, and filled with memories only to realize that the place is not one you have actually ever visited? I quite often do, many times to the lab in the basement of the English home in Daphne du Maurier’s The House on the Strand. It wasn’t a very exciting place in the book, and in my mind it is dusty, with old fashioned chemistry equipment, little light, and whatever molders in old English houses.
It is obvious that I was never actually there but for some reason, a combination of the story, the character, and emotion, the place is as real to me as some I visited long ago. It is not a form of déjà vu, at least I don’t think so, but the feeling of having been in that place is as close to real as it can be.
As vivid is the church rising out of nothing in Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth series. Before I saw the video of it, I had the place firmly in my mind. The same was true with Manderly, in du Maurier’s Rebecca. I could see it ablaze as vividly as if I were standing beside it, listening to the roar of the fire and smelling the smoke. But, I can also see it intact, with the unnamed character, the poor suffering second wife, trying to keep her head high in the face of what she perceived as inferiority on her part. It is so dark, with overstuffed sofas and antiques and that horrible housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, undermining her every move.
It was sunnier on the porch where the main character in Lad: A Dog by Alfred Payson Terhune liked to lay his head. This ability to turn fictional locations into reality has been with me at least as long as I was a child, reading that book, crying my eyes out when I read the ending. The island where Walter Farley’s The Island Stallion lived is also as vibrant, especially the entrance to it.
Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Sherlock Holmes stories, all stick in my mind, not as vividly, of course, as my special favorites, but easily recalled. The halls and rooms in Harry Potter books were all fully visualized way before the movies were ever made. I can see and feel the Sorting Hat. It was the same for me with The Hobbit books, but also for the houses in The Help, Gone with the Wind, and The Red Tent. The Outlander books and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are now vivid memories of places I have visited, as is the Moon, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
Authors create new worlds for us and allow us to travel there. But in many ways it is our own imaginations that furnish the details and let them imprint themselves on our brains. When we get “lost in a book” we can find our own way out, or we can let a piece of ourselves live there forever. Then we can visit anytime. It lets us keep enjoying the feeling we had at the time we read the books.
The room in The Mirror Crack’d haunted me for years. My second book, Vengeance Tastes Sweet, is in a way an homage to Agatha Christie. So many books over the years have had such an impact on my mind that I feel as if I’ve gone into them myself.
Maybe, instead of saying “I read that,” I should be saying “I’ve been there.”