Friday, February 27, 2009

Narrative characters you want to slap

We all know how important narrative voice is, but is important enough to be the difference between pushing on with a book or throwing it aside when you don't like it?

After the dark violence of The Pilo Family Circus, I was ready for something life affirming and whimsical, so last week I picked up Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

In fairness, I appreciated the themes of this novel, which so frequently seems to turn up on people's "most loved books" list. For those who haven't read it, it's the story of a nomadic mother and daughter, who arrive in a small French village and set up a chocolate shop at the beginning of Lent. Their presence - and leanings towards paganism - raise the ire of the local priest, who wants his flock to focus on self-denial, not the sinful indulgence of the perfect eclair.

But, every time the novel switched narrators from the free spirited Vianne to the repressed Father Reynaud, I lost interest.

Not just becaue Reynaud was unpleasant - every good story needs a good antagonist - but because I wasn't that interested in knowning what was going on his head. Or at least, not so often.

Reynaud's reasonably fleshed out flaws are ideal for the story; experiencing events from his perspective gives the tale more depth; and his demise - as inevitable as it is ironic - is satsifying.

But, as necessary as his narrative voice was, it removed me from the story rather than drawing me closer.

I finished the book, but had Reynaud had more page time, I may not have.

So, it got me wondering how often people leave a book unfinished because of the narrative character. I don't mean not finishing a book because we don't like the story, or the style of writing, or the type size.

I'm talking about being aware you don't like the narrative character and choosing to put the book aside because of it (as I did a year ago with John Kennedy O'Toole's The Confederecy of Dunces). Or maybe even continuing to read but loathing the narrator to the final page (as, apparently, did many detractors of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series).

Has anyone else experienced the annoying narrator phenomenon?
(And yes, Belinda, your topic about narrators of audio books is the next logical post!)


Anonymous said...

I have the two last books you mentioned sitting on my bookshelves. One I finished with lots of grumbles and 'this is amateur' and one I could barely start because it bored me.

It is true that its rare indeed to find a character so utterly enthralling that you want to stick with them for over 500 pages while they tell you every thought that is in their head!

the ink-stained toe-poker said...

hey westie, how ye doin?

I loved the post about Pilo. I think I'll look it out. I read Chocolat a few years ago and remember enjoying it. A bit too girlie for me though. Then I read Like Water For Chocolate. It's girlie too, but its so much more interesting. And as far as chocolate in literature goes, a far far superior book.
mmm....a lot of fars in there. A statement on the state of my post-conf.doc. brain rather than a comment on the old vocabulary.

My other job's got me writing press releases now. Summoned everything you taught me Westie and delivered the goods.
thanks again.
I'll be on the phone soon.