Will Duquette, proprietor of a fine blog of mostly book reviews, recently praised The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland by saying that when he was finished he knew the main character “like a friend.” That never seems like praise to me. I know dozens of fictional characters far better than I know any of my friends. I talk to my friends maybe twice a week; an author has direct access to his characters’ thoughts and actions 24 hours a day, plus, presumably, psychological insight and talent. He ought to be able to do better than I can. I would not testify, in advance, that any of my friends was incapable of committing some ghastly crime; I would take the stand for Newland Archer or Caspar Goodwood without hesitation.
Artemisia is a historical character, but still, you devote a few years to someone’s life and you ought to have a pretty good idea what makes them tick. “Like a friend” seems like a pretty abysmal standard.