As you may have noticed, in general members of book clubs regard the characters inside books exactly the way they regard the characters outside books. The facts that the former are made of the alphabet and the latter of muscle, tissue, and bone are of little relevance.— from The Summer without Men, by Siri Hustvedt.
Science backs this up. It's the same brain centres lighting up in response to a stimulus, whether in the world or in our minds.
This is the essence of a short online course I recently completed, and it's a curious serendipity that I was concurrently reading a novel that addressed the same concept within it.
By the age of 3 or 4, we develop a theory of mind, applying the sense of our own personness, to others, real or fictional, in order to understand them, to fill in the gaps.
Real life is good experience for understanding and appreciating literature; and fiction can be good practice for real life.
Certainly the girls attending the narrator's summer poetry workshop learn this lesson.
The Summer without Men was not the book I expected it to be. Having read Hustvedt before, I knew it wouldn't be chick lit. There's some angry feminism about it, not all of which I agree with.
The narrator's a poet, an academic. As much as she references Kierkegaard, I never fully warmed to her.