Seeing the Unseeable: Recognizing Characters

by Patrick on February 23, 2009

A really strange thing happened to me on Thursday night.  I was having a drink at a local bar (the excellent gastropub The York in Highland Park), enjoying some fish and chips and a pint of Stone Pale Ale.  At some point, I glanced over at the table to my right, where I saw a pretty woman having dinner with a couple of guys.  I was certain I knew this woman from somewhere, but I couldn’t say where.  Did I go to college with her?  Did we once work together?  Was she an actress (This is LA, after all)?

After a few minutes, it occured to me who it was. It was Genevieve Latko-Devine.  I went back to eating my meal, content that I’d figured out who the mystery woman was.  Except that I clearly hadn’t.  Genevieve Latko-Devine is a character in Joshua Ferris’ book Then We Came to the End, about which I’ve posted before.  I had “recognized” a character from a novel, a novel that hasn’t been adapted for the screen (Though if they’re planning an adaptation, they need to find this woman).  It was the oddest feeling, seeing a person who so perfectly fits your idea of what a fictional character looks like.

I frequently get halfway through a book before realizing that I’ve been picturing the house in the story as a house I knew when I was a kid.  Usually not my own house, but a house that I spent a lot of time in as a child.  I’ve never been able to figure out the exact process that, as a reader, that makes the house in the book correspond to the house in my head.  I don’t think it has to do with a description, though. I doubt the author has the same image of the house as I do, but nevertheless, it persists.  But never have I seen a person who so clearly jumped out at me as a character (especially a relatively minor character like Genevieve Latko-Devine).

Has this ever happened to anyone else?  Have you ever seen a character from a book in the real world?