While listening to the audiobook version of Quite Ugly One Morning, I started thinking about characterisation.
For a little necessary, if possibly unwanted background, this book is hilarious but also quite, quite disgusting at the beginning. It starts out at a crime scene with just about every human bodily fluid (and semi-solid) on display. Puke, piss, blood, kack. It’s all there, and it’s all very, very detailed.
I admit I laughed at where the bitten off fingers went. I will always be something of an eleven-year-old boy, it’s something about myself that I have just come to accept.
Anyway, with that established–right after the scenes with that involve the scene of the crime (oh English) conclude, the next scene begins with a man farting happily in the bath and thinking about the word “fat”. This again appealed to the eleven-year-old boy who finds the word fat funny on its own. It’s the letter sounds within, I think.
I mentioned this to my dad on the way home, as I often do when I’m listening to a book of any note at all, and I realised while I was trying to not be an eleven-year-old boy, that it actually set up the character rather well. He’s a villain, of the bureaucratic hedonist sort. A Lex Luthor, if you will.
The point is that I realised the farting in the bath actually established his character, at least in a starting point capacity. It made the comment about only poor or stupid people being fat, while the wealthy and clever are firm or impressive in stature, come off perfectly, and the combination of the two is the stepping off point for the spiel that explains everything you need to know about him throughout the majority, if not the rest, of the novel.
I ended up comparing it to Indiana Jones’s first scene in The Temple of Doom, and how his character is introduced in that. Everything he does is believable, right from the first time he appears, even if it’s the first Indy flick you see and know nothing about the intrepid adventurer (and the bungling that most people don’t even notice properly).
Being me, this led to a trace trail of thinking, all done aloud. One of these days I’m going to have to record one of my ride home conversations, especially if I’ve been listening to a new book that I find exceptionally good or bad. They evolve like bloody pokemon.
With a bridge set up between Quite Ugly One Morning and Temple of Doom, I started thinking and talking about the psychological scariness of different villains. It could be argued that there are more than two in Temple of Doom, but the two I focused on were Lao Che and whatever his name was, the head priest person for Kali Ma. They were quite different types of villain.
My point was that the bureaucrat is always scarier than the brute. They are also more effective. Lao Che had a classy sort of menace, and while I doubt anyone ever had nightmares that involved him, hearts, and the ripping out thereof, he was certainly the most effective of the two villains. Lao Che was technically undefeated. Smeg, he even won.
He got what he wanted. (the artefact he sent Indy to retrieve) He outsmarted Indy. (more than once) And if not for the luck and small addition of skill on Indiana’s part, he would have also succeeded in having his enemy killed. And most importantly, he never suffered punishment. He basically won, as I said.
The priest (or whatever) managed to subvert Indy through force, by making him drink the blood of Kali Ma. But Indy defeated him in this, by overcoming that sedition. He lost everything material that he had worked for, the child labour, the power, and his life. He was defeated all bloody round. All of his minions and superiors were either caught or killed. Lost, lost, lost. Not a win to his name, unless you count his taking some of the magic rocks along with him to drown and get scoffed by alligators. (or were they crocodiles?)