Onstage versus Off

September 12th, 2011 • Kate

rosencrantz-and-guildenstern-are-dead-800-75There’s a line in the play and movie version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard that goes:

We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.

And it got me thinking this morning. That is, I think, the hallmark of a great novel, YA, MG, or otherwise. Reading it, you feel like you’re getting an insight into the characters that you wouldn’t otherwise achieve if they were real people, and you could walk right up to them and ask them a question.

But reading about them, hearing their innermost thoughts — that’s the bit that feels like you’re getting something extra. A bonus feature, so to speak. The bit that usually happens offstage, suddenly front and center.

It’s not just with first person narratives, either, although the effect is often used to great affect in those books. What are some of your favorite books that hint at the characters’ deep and involving “offstage” lives?

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5 Responses to “Onstage versus Off”

  1. Esther Sparhawk Says:

    I just finished reading Shannon Hale's AUSTENLAND. What a wonderful book! Oddly, this book is about the MC's onstage life, not offstage life. She inherits an all-expenses-paid vacation to a Jane Austen-esque anachronistic getaway. They have paid actors who play parts similar to Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, Captain Wentworth, and others. Visitors to Austenland dress in Regency clothes (even the corset), stay for three weeks on the grounds of a Regency mansion, and attend a ball before their vacation is over.

    But the best part is the MC's curiosity about the real, off-stage lives of the actors at Austenland. We, the readers, are drawn in by this too. It's captivating! As you leaf through the pages, you find yourself longing to know the REAL man behind the book's romantic hero (and, frankly, his co-workers). The best thing about the book is its wonderfully-woven surprise ending!

    Like Mr. Darcy says in the Kiera Knightly version of P& P, I love, Love! LOVE! this book!

  2. Krista V. Says:

    Esther, I just finished rereading Shannon Hale's AUSTENLAND! I read it for the first time about a year ago, and just recently I was thinking, "I'm kind of in the mood for some AUSTENLAND again." I've never done that before, checked a book out from the library, then checked it out again a while later. I liked being able to read between Mr. Nobley's lines, since I understood his character so much better the second time around.

    And Kate, on the topic of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, I just have to give a shout-out to my AP Literature teacher, who introduced me to this wonderful play exactly ten years ago. We studied it as an offshoot of the more widely read Hamlet, and she taught it perfectly. It was fun to watch everyone pick up on the significance of the title one by one:) I still quote that play sometimes. ("Consistency is all I ask!" "Give us this day our daily mask." (Well, I mostly quote the first line…))

  3. Rebecca Petruck Says:

    Re: Austenland. Loved it. AND, it's being made into a movie even now. Yay!

  4. Rebecca Petruck Says:

    THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS by John Connolly accomplishes this beautifully. I've read the book three times in a little more than one year, and it breaks my heart and inspires me every time. It's kind of a Pan's Labyrinth with Grimm's fairy tales, and is gorgeous. The internal journey is what drives the external journey. As brilliant as R&G Are Dead.

  5. twittertales Says:

    Tolkien for the sense of the whole world all THERE spilling over the edges of the actual story, in dozens of layers that reach back historically (old statues like forgotten props from the previous epic). Mrs Dalloway of course for what a person is really thinking all day. Garth Nix's "Sabriel" for showing us the heroine's quest to save her father is almost certainly doomed from the start, and everyone sees it except her. (Bonus points for not making her seem idiotic or useless, ever.) Scott Westerfeld for those hilarious and private moments where the cross-dressing girl tries desperately to keep her disguise, while wishing she could throw it off.

    Louise Curtis