"This belt was the most salient thing about him. It advertised his callowness – a callowness sheer and unutterable. Both men were manifestly out of place, and why such as they should adventure the North is part of the mystery of things that passes understanding.”
This is very satisfying. A bad writer couldn't bring Hal off -- he's every bit as alive and three-dimensional a character as he needs to be, but now a whit more. And we can see his belt so vividly. Sure enough, he turns out to be the kind of greenhorn who ignores the locals when they warn him the ice is about to crack.
London is at his most Kiplingesque in The Call of the Wild, a book that tells you, this is how the world works, here's everything you need to know. There are a few movies that deliver this kind of life's like this comprehensive certainty -- “The Seven Samurai” and “The Godfather” come to mind. One can perhaps think of these movies as having omniscient directors?
A hundred years ago or so, writers of literary fiction began distancing themselves from this kind of effect, so that it's now found only in genre fiction. Patrick O' Brian has the kind of authorial authority I'm talking about, as does Lee Child. But while nobody would accuse Vladimir Nabokov or Mark Helprin of being insufficiently opinionated, or of lacking conviction, the worlds they deal in are nonetheless built up of multiple incommensurate radical subjectivities. They don't try to simplify reality, or to make it seem more understandable than it is -- this refusal has come to be part of what we mean by being literary.
Part of the attraction of Jane Austen is that she deals in truths universally acknowledged. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Jackie Collins also deals in such truths, as does Sex and the City, a collection of dating columns by Candace Bushnell, wherein it is a truth universally acknowleged that a woman living in Manhattan will only have sex with a man if he makes over $200,000 a year, and that he won't call her the next day. The Call of the Wild and Sex and the City provide a similar sort of vicarious experience, of being forced into subjection, obliged to learn the rules of a harsh, immutable realm. Many readers go for that sort of thing. Universally acknowleged truths are hokum, but fun.
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