At 2/1/10 04:49 PM, RWT wrote:
I've been waiting to discuss literature with WB ever since I met him... I could weep for joy. I just hope I don't wet myself or say anything stupid about Poe.
I reread Le Carré's The Secret Pilgrim a few months ago, and this discussion of character narrators brings it to mind. If you haven't read it, here's the spoiler-free part that's relevant here: it's written as the memoirs of a man named Ned, a student of super-spy George Smiley, the main character in most of Le Carré's novels. The Secret Pilgrim is less of a novel and more of a collection of short stories, written from the recollections of 'Ned'. (In reality, most of the stories are stories Le Carré knew from his days as an actual intelligence agent, rewritten to include Ned). Parts of it are written in 2nd person, but never conversationally. There's always the air of formality that makes it seem like every word was considered; carefully chosen and edited by a man writing the story of his life. The reader's suspension of disbelief that the book is actually the memoirs of a spy named Ned is, in my opinion, constantly there.
The point I want to make is that the illusion of a story as being written by a character, while neccesitating special care, can be used to great effect. Two important things need to be ensured, however; that the illusion of the character being the one writing it doesn't break down, and that the writing remains in the voice of an author. If the story doesn't sound like it's being written by the character, if it sounds like an omniscient author is writing it, then the spell has been broken. If the story continues to make sense in that case, there's probably not even any reason to use the device.
The other point I mentioned is to maintain the voice of an author. A memoir or a book is not going to begin with 'Hey y'all, here's my story.' (No one would take them seriously; And after all, even fictional sixth-graders know not to use 2nd person in serious writing). What I'm trying to say is this; even if you aren't retarded, the authority that comes with being the author can be hard to duplicate in a character.
This is so better than that time we played monopoly.
I think writing in that character/narrator style just brings that extra life to the story if the author goes out of their way to really get into that character.
I read Anthony Burgess's 'A Clockwork Orange' last year and absolutely loved it for its use of language and how that was portrayed through the first person narrator. Over the past year or so, I've gotten into the habit of taking note on the first sentences in the books I read, and I've noticed that those are usually the ones that stand out the most when considering a narrator's character, it's a sort of brief introduction to the book, and I noticed it with A Clockwork Orange, and even numerous other books that I've bought and are even yet to read, that the author has taken the effort to establish their narrator from those first words.
For reference, I'll copy down the first few sentences from a few books that have caught my interest on the matter.
A Clockwork Orange: "What's it going to be then, eh?"
There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: You don't know me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.
The Catcher in the Rye: If you reaally want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
I've only read the first of those three books, but already, the authors have established their stories to have those uniqu character narrators. Huckleberry Finn even goes to the point of referring directly to the author as a mostly honest fellow, despite the impression that he himself is telling his own story through the use of first person point of view. It becomes apparent, then, that this mostly honest Mark Twain guy wrote this book, and wrote this character to appear as some sort of straight shooter, telling it like it is. Although, for a narrator, he seems to lack a basic grasp on proper English sentence structure (and indeed, this is apparent with Alex in A Clockwork Orange as well). In the Catcher in the Rye, however, from that first glimpse, we can see that Holden is intent on telling the story his way, bias be damned. In this sense, his blanket disregard for a level, unbiassed recount gives the reader the impression that he is untrustworthy. In this sense, the events of the story are mediated through the reader's attitude towards the narrator.
My creative writing tutor last year was telling me about a story he wrote which recieved a poor review because the reviewer didn't like the narrator, and by extension, didn't like the author. When he saw the review, he couldn't believe that the reviewer made such an arbitrary mistake. Narrators aren't isolated to just an author's perspective, like the narrators are merely a platform for telling the reader what the author wants to say. Narrators are characters, same as Harry Potter is a character, or James Bond is a character, or Frodo Baggins is a character. Alex is a total bastard in A Clockwork Orange, but I definitely wouldn't say the same for Anthony Burgess. Alex is a bastard because Burgess needed him to be, in order to effectively convey his own message through the story.
And to briefly touch on Scarab's example of the French Lieutenant's Woman, I am vaguely familiar with the film, as I had to watch a bit over the course of my studies last year. I think film seems to inherently lack the subtleties of literature, especially as the alternating between the 'filming' and the 'present day' in the movie can only be defined as black/white, with nothing in between. I remember reading Fight Club and wondering how the hell they'd managed to turn that into a film. I actually thought the film turned out pretty well, although again, all subtleties are lost from the book. I guess it's just one of those things where there's no getting around it.