Wednesday, 11 December 2013 11:21

11.12.2013 - Bible or Babbling? Naming characters in 'The Palace of Curiosities'

I'm struck by the number of people who see biblical overtones in The Palace of Curiosities (especially how I named the characters), and who suppose that was my intention.

First up, there were no biblical intentions on my part. Secondly, if that's how you read the novel, that's absolutely fine by me.

The two main protagonists in the novel are called Eve and Abel. Some readers have seen a conscious tip 'o' the pen to the Genesis story: Eve being the first woman (except for Lilith of course – but moving swiftly on...) and Abel (her son, the 'nice' brother of Cain). All very compelling. Except that when I was writing the novel, none of the above crossed my mind.

Eve is named after my grandmother. Born in 1895 she was (just) a Victorian, and a wonderfully strong-minded woman to boot. She nurtured my love of reading and what greater gift could I have asked for. I named Eve in her honour.

As for Abel – his name is inspired by linguistic theory. There's a link below with references to more detailed studies, but here it is in brief. Human babies worldwide make very similar noises when they start to 'babble', regardless of the language they are born into. These first sounds are invariably ma-ma-ma and then da-da and ba-ba (hence words for mother / father in many languages being based on these clusters).

At the start of the novel, Abel is being 're/born' – with profound memory loss. I wondered what on earth he would say when asked his name. Maybe it went something like this, I reasoned.

- What's your name, mate?

- Ma-ma-ma.

- What did you say? Speak up, mate. Can't hear you.

- Ab-ba-ba.

- Abel, is that what you're trying to say? Eh?

- Yes. I am Abel (he breathes a sigh of relief, as he was getting panicky at not even remembering his own name).

So, no Bible. He's just babbling.

However, don't feel you have to believe me. I only wrote the darn thing.

That's the magic of novels. When they are out there - on the shelves, on your Kindle - they don't 'belong' to the author any more. They no longer exist in the vacuum of the author's mind.

What you bring to The Palace of Curiosities (and thank you for reading) is your own eye, your own ear, your own history, your own imagination. A whole life I have no idea about because it is yours. As soon is the book is read – it changes. Each reader makes it anew.

That is the alchemy of reading – and how very wonderful it is.

Further reading:

Click this link to go to Wiki page about language acquisition