Intrusive narrators...

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Rich.

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Sep 28, 2017
Spain
This is a question about intrusive narrators in modern novels.

An author might write something like this:

He sauntered into the shop. There was no loo roll, again. He hunched his shoulders and glared at the shop assistant.

Or they might write it like this:

He wasn't one to walk anywhere. I swear it's true. He wasn't a walker. He was a saunterer, a fidgeting, mooching, shuffling saunterer of the very worst kind. And believe me I've known a few. On my life, I tell you, he sauntered right into that shop, thinking he was simply going to buy some loo roll and be done with it, but of course there wasn't any. There wasn't any anywhere, as you and I well know. So what did he do, standing there, mind full of outrage? Well, he did what he always did, the miserable so and so. The first thing he did was to think about leaving, but he knew that if he did that, he'd only take his outrage with him. He needed to let it out. He understood that much. So he hunched himself up like the rotten clam he was, and he summoned up his best glare (at least, the one he thought was best – in fact it made him look like a rotten clam with barnacles) – he summoned it up and aimed it square at the unsuspecting shop assistant.

You don't see that second style much these days – the first-person omniscient narrator – but it is kind of fun.

Have you seen it anywhere recently? Does this voice still exist in modern novels, or is it a relic of a bygone age?


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I must admit, I can't recall anything I've read like it. That doesn't mean it couldn't be done, but it's hard for a reader to become emotionally involved. And that's all the rage. If someone did that or had done that, whose shoes would the reader experience the story through? Man, the skills you'd need to pull that off hurts my brain ;) I'm having enough trouble as it is!
 
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I probably look for a style in between the 2 when I'm choosing a book. I want to know the emotions and inner dialog but not to the point of being trapped at a party with THAT drunk person. Wouldn't Harry Potter sort of qualify for an in between voice? Literary fiction I think still cultivates the 2nd voice. One reason I'm having trouble getting into Murakami at the moment. I thought I'd love him, instead I just want to say-there is a point to this, right?
 
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The only Murakami I've read is his non-fiction book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I enjoyed that but did get the impression his fiction would be... measured, shall we say? Having read your comment, @Pamela Jo, I won't rush to read any of it.

I don't think Harry Potter is quite the middle ground between the two bits above. I read a historical action novel a few years back – Blood Eye by Giles Kristian – that has a first-person narrator who is an old man retelling his young life. Maybe that's closer, in as much as the narrator is clearly a character. But then again, Harry Potter's narrator is omniscient, which Blood Eye's isn't. I don't know. Maybe first-person omniscient has just faded from use.

If someone ... had done that ...
I was thinking of A Christmas Carol by Dickens. I read it (for the first time!) last week, and was utterly bowled over by its genius. I then discovered that Dickens gave 127 public readings of the story before he died and that public readings of novels were a thing in the 19th century – which goes a long way towards explaining the (theatrical) first-person omniscient narrator.

The New York Public Library has a digital copy of Dicken's prompt book, (click here to see it). It looks like he used the same book for all of those readings, so you can see from his hand-written notes how the telling of the tale evolved. It's fascinating.
 
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I was thinking of A Christmas Carol by Dickens. I read it (for the first time!) last week, and was utterly bowled over by its genius. I then discovered that Dickens gave 127 public readings of the story before he died and that public readings of novels were a thing in the 19th century – which goes a long way towards explaining the (theatrical) first-person omniscient narrator.

The New York Public Library has a digital copy of Dicken's prompt book, (click here to see it). It looks like he used the same book for all of those readings, so you can see from his hand-written notes how the telling of the tale evolved. It's fascinating.

I've read that, well, listened, which is probably why I missed the first-person omniscient. What a rich history it has! I'm off to follow that link, I agree, that would be fascinating :)
 
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The only Murakami I've read is his non-fiction book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I enjoyed that but did get the impression his fiction would be... measured, shall we say? Having read your comment, @Pamela Jo, I won't rush to read any of it.

I don't think Harry Potter is quite the middle ground between the two bits above. I read a historical action novel a few years back – Blood Eye by Giles Kristian – that has a first-person narrator who is an old man retelling his young life. Maybe that's closer, in as much as the narrator is clearly a character. But then again, Harry Potter's narrator is omniscient, which Blood Eye's isn't. I don't know. Maybe first-person omniscient has just faded from use.


I was thinking of A Christmas Carol by Dickens. I read it (for the first time!) last week, and was utterly bowled over by its genius. I then discovered that Dickens gave 127 public readings of the story before he died and that public readings of novels were a thing in the 19th century – which goes a long way towards explaining the (theatrical) first-person omniscient narrator.

The New York Public Library has a digital copy of Dicken's prompt book, (click here to see it). It looks like he used the same book for all of those readings, so you can see from his hand-written notes how the telling of the tale evolved. It's fascinating.
Also, Dickens was paid by the word as many were in those days. It paid to flesh a scene out with omniscient narrator.
 
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You are right of course about Harry Potter. I was thinking more of just omniscient. Dickens became wealthy from his public readings I read. They paid better than just publishing and it was a final tour when he was ill that probably finished him off. He lived rather extravagantly and supported a young mistress. I think Oliver Twist is absolutely astounding too. What about Melvilles Bartleby the Scrivenor. I'll have to go check now. Maybe it's died out because it really is for reading aloud. I know my grandparents read to each other in the evenings. At the old sewing clubs etc there would usually be a designated reader to read from something while the others worked. 1638992126786.png
 
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Also, Dickens was paid by the word as many were in those days. It paid to flesh a scene out with omniscient narrator.
Not in this case, it would seem. Dickens self published A Christmas Carol. And the round-the-campfire style of storytelling was common in popular ghost stories at the time (maybe paid-by-the-word writers employed that style in the first place as a money-making technique, and then it happened to be popular?).


Dickens became wealthy from his public readings I read.
I read that too. He made a couple of million dollars (in today's money) from his American tour alone!

You know, I haven't read Oliver Twist. *hangs head in shame* I've always had a bit of a blockage with Dickens. I don't know why. But A Christmas Carol has broken the dam, I think. I'll definitely be reading more.

I love the idea of a designated reader at the old sewing clubs! :)
 
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Not in this case, it would seem. Dickens self published A Christmas Carol. And the round-the-campfire style of storytelling was common in popular ghost stories at the time (maybe paid-by-the-word writers employed that style in the first place as a money-making technique, and then it happened to be popular?).



I read that too. He made a couple of million dollars (in today's money) from his American tour alone!

You know, I haven't read Oliver Twist. *hangs head in shame* I've always had a bit of a blockage with Dickens. I don't know why. But A Christmas Carol has broken the dam, I think. I'll definitely be reading more.

I love the idea of a designated reader at the old sewing clubs! :)
I was sometimes that reader. The old ladies continued meeting the way they had during WW2 when their sons, sometimes daughters, were away at war. They would occasionally talk about those days. Neighbours children who didn't come back from the fighting, what others had done to survive, what they were doing now, the illnesses, deaths of those who had been members of the sewing circle. I think it's the beginning of my belief that the best literature is based on gossip.
 
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Ah, Dickens was really a master of the chatty narrator style! Not nearly so chatty, but Isabel Allende often veers toward the intrusive narrator--her stories are often couched as being told by some eyewitness, long after the events of the story. I'm quite fond of the style, though I don't like to read it all the time. It slows a book down.

It was a tradition in my house growing up to read A Christmas Carol aloud on Christmas Eve. My husband and I kept the tradition alive for a few decades, until the kids vetoed it in favour of the modern books we read aloud every night.
 
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This is a question about intrusive narrators in modern novels.
You don't see that second style much these days – the first-person omniscient narrator – but it is kind of fun.

Have you seen it anywhere recently? Does this voice still exist in modern novels, or is it a relic of a bygone age?


[EDITED for typos]
It's a bit like Mick Herron – and I believe (mostly hearsay) he found it hard to publish at first because of it. Sometimes, IMHO, I feel he overdoes it just a little.
 
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... a bit like Mick Herron ...
I hadn't heard of him before I read your post, and I'm now just a few pages from finishing Slow Horses. It's good fun, but I agree with you that the narrative voice gets away from him sometimes. In the context of this discussion, it was a refreshing thing to find though, so thanks for that! :)
 
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I haven't seen exactly the same kind of thing, @Rich. but something similar, perhaps, in The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – which I loved enough to buy the other two in the triligy (haven't read yet. Life getting in the way). That's got omniscient narrator and lots of changes of pov so keeps the reader (well, this reader anyway) on their toes. That and a fantastic first paragraph: "Let's start with the end f the world, why don't we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things."

I didn't find the narrator intrusive, though, just interesting. I felt in safe hands, no matter which pov I was in.
 
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I haven't seen exactly the same kind of thing, @Rich. but something similar, perhaps, in The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – which I loved enough to buy the other two in the triligy (haven't read yet. Life getting in the way). That's got omniscient narrator and lots of changes of pov so keeps the reader (well, this reader anyway) on their toes. That and a fantastic first paragraph: "Let's start with the end f the world, why don't we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things."

I didn't find the narrator intrusive, though, just interesting. I felt in safe hands, no matter which pov I was in.

And the second person chapters were jarring at first, but not for long ... well-written :)
 
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I hadn't heard of him before I read your post, and I'm now just a few pages from finishing Slow Horses. It's good fun, but I agree with you that the narrative voice gets away from him sometimes. In the context of this discussion, it was a refreshing thing to find though, so thanks for that! :)
The one of his I was really thinking of – "the narrative voice gets away from him sometimes" – I didn't mention because I couldn't remember the title... but it is This Is what Happened.
It is a stand-alone (not Slough House or Zoe Boehm), involving a kidnap. I felt that, even though the plot worked, Herron's ever-present wry narrator, pointing out the mistakes of the kidnapper, cancelled out any real tension or suspense. Seemed like he couldn't switch it off, making for a weaker book.
Checking the title now, I see the writing public tend to agree.
 
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May I recommend the Nevernight series by Jay Stephenson Kristoff. Not only does he have a strong narrative voice, but the author also breaks the fourth wall - and often. "So, gentle friends...".

The audiobook does a much better job with the intrusion, tho'. Paper or pixel media often resort to footnotes where the author chose to add some context or provide a snippet of backstory. Many of these little asides are humourous and quite self aware.

I feel the quirky approach works well for the Fantasy genre (which Nevenight is). This style isn't for everyone, but it did the trick for me.

EDIT: autocorrect makes bad typing worse.
 
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May I recommend the Nevernight series by Jay Stephenson.
Yes, indeed. I'll check it out. Thanks! :)

I haven't seen exactly the same kind of thing, @Rich. but something similar, perhaps, in The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin...
Oh, ah, it's just that, umm, oh, The Fifth Season! Well then... *gathers flailing self* That's, like, one of my favourite trilogies, evaaaaaah! And you haven't read books two and three yet, so I'm saying NOTHING!

The narrator in those books... no, no, no, I really am saying nothing more.

Read them. They. Are. Good. Oh yes, they are. :)
 
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I think my autocorrect is trolling me. The author's name is Jay KRISTOFF. I can't imagine how badly I mistyped for it to come out like that. Oops
Oh the *beep*ing autocorrect. I feel your pain. Mine has started to swap some English words to the closest fit in Swiss German and never mind about translations. My English speaking friends keep sending me texts back asking if I've lost the plot. And it swaps some correct words for typos I made in the past.

So in a weird sense, autocorrect has become an intrusive narrator in my writing ....
 
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Oh, ah, it's just that, umm, oh, The Fifth Season! Well then... *gathers flailing self* That's, like, one of my favourite trilogies, evaaaaaah! And you haven't read books two and three yet, so I'm saying NOTHING!

The narrator in those books... no, no, no, I really am saying nothing more.

Read them. They. Are. Good. Oh yes, they are. :)
Ah, that's great, Rich! Glad someone else feels that way. It's head-and-shoulders above most of what I've read so far. Can't help comparing it to something I'm reading now (which is... you know... good. But not omg excellent). I don't know whether to re-read book I just for a recap and the sheer pleasure of it, or whether to plunge into book 2. Decisions...
 
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Kristoff has been accused of cultural appropriation. Worth bearing in mind when reading his portrayal of Maori or Asian cultures.
I found out about this only after finisheimg the Nevernight trilogy. Someone was offended because one of the heroes is from a fictional culture similar to that of the Māori people. Kristoff is Australian, so I'm sure it wasn't a coincidence.

In any case, Nevernight takes place on a mythical world with three suns. I don't think the character in question or his people are meant to represent (or misrepresent) anyone here on Earth.

I cannot speak about Kristoff's other novels (haven't read them). However, I've said more than enough about the ones I have read. The controversy isn't relevant to a discussion about narrative style.

What is relevant would be a book I'm currently "reading" (yep, another audiobook). This one is Superworld, by Gus Krieger. This guy is almost as bad as Kristoff. Some reviewers absolutely H A T E his strong narrative voice. In fact, a couple of readers openly dismiss positive reviews as fake. They simply cannot understand how anyone could appreciate this style.

However, I do appreciate a strong narrative voice (when done well). I happen to like this novel, but I also tend to write that way.
 
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Oh the *beep*ing autocorrect. I feel your pain. Mine has started to swap some English words to the closest fit in Swiss German and never mind about translations. My English speaking friends keep sending me texts back asking if I've lost the plot. And it swaps some correct words for typos I made in the past.

So in a weird sense, autocorrect has become an intrusive narrator in my writing ....
Swiss German and autocorrect... That's a waking nightmare. Shudder. Another friend and I have the theory that autocorrects are actually the ghosts of bitter, black-souled copyeditors. My husband's name, Juerg, is ALWAYS changed to Jeers.
 
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