Friday, February 6, 2015

Somebody's watching

Miss Kircher appeared as I examined an astronomical clock. I felt her presence, standing near the automated devil, but didn't turn around.
Sheridan Hay, The Secret of Lost Things

Someone was behind Harold. He could feel it in his spine.
Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Is there a more tiresome cliche in fiction than the feeling protagonists get that someone is watching them or following them? And they are invariably right. Someone really is watching them or following them. Most often we find this sort of thing in thrillers or detective stories, but the two books cited above are more serious, non-genre novels. I gave each of them a positive review here within the past few days, yet each novel dropped a peg in my estimation when I came across the above lines.

I don't recall ever sensing that someone was following me, perhaps because nobody ever has, at least not in a sinister sense. Yet people do walk behind me, observe me from behind and sometimes walk up behind me and scare the bejeebers out of me. Unless I hear them or notice a shadow or a reflection, I don't sense anything.

So why do so many main characters in fiction get this feeling? And how come, when they are the ones doing the spying or the following, the people they are spying on or following never get this same feeling? This strikes me as laziness on the part of authors, a shortcut way of trying to give readers a chill sort of like that supposedly experienced by the characters. I just don't buy it, especially when one comes across it so often in books.

In real life some people really do sense that somebody is watching them or following them. I think we call them paranoid.

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