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I'm keen to read books that play with the idea of a traditional narrator or voice. Which novels do you recommend?
In the world of a novel, the narrator is our tour guide. They can be endowed with a distinctive personality like any other character; they can be objective, or partial and part of the action; they can be omniscient and all-seeing, or they may be fallible, unreliable or even deceptive. Their voice sets the tone and mood, they control what we know and when, and show that how a story is told is just as important as what happens. These novels all have very unusual narrators, with interesting effects for the stories they tell.
· A child begins telling his story from inside the womb in the prologue to Patricia Grace’s novel Baby No-Eyes.
· The far from omniscient narrator of Before I go to Sleep, by S J Watson, cannot form new memories and awakes each morning ignorant of herself, as she (and the reader) work to reconstruct her past.
· A historical novel set in The Forest, by Edward Rutherford, moves between narrators as its action spans the centuries, not least of them a deer living in Southern England’s New Forest.
· Ian McEwan’s experiments with narrative point of view include using the voice of an insect in The Cockroach, his rewriting of Kafka’s classic tale, and that of an unborn child in Nutshell, his revisioning of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a character with a very limited capacity for action.
· Death tells the story of The Book Thief, by Markus Zusack, a morose but caring narrator whose role underlines the theme of mortality in a tale set in Nazi Germany during WWII.
· A voice speaks from the past in Tina Makereti’s Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings, watching over and watching through the descendants of the present as they confront the complexity of being Mãori, Pãkehã and Moriori.
· The sequel to the Booker Prize winner The Famished Road, by Ben Okri, is Songs of Enchantment, a Nigerian epic in which a spirit child tells of the oppression of his village and family.
· A post-modern murder mystery set during the Ottoman Empire, My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk has a different narrator for each chapter, including the corpse of the victim, Satan, a Dervish, a coin and the colour red.
· The narrator of Emma Donoghue’s Room has a severely limited knowledge of the world – a child who knows only the room he was born captive into – leaving a gulf of understanding for the reader to bridge.
· The narrator of Alice Sebold’s poignant novel The Lovely Bones is the murdered 14-year-old girl who watches from Heaven as her friends and family struggle to come to terms with her death.