The OF Blog: Brief reading notes on narrative voice

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Brief reading notes on narrative voice

Finished reading Daniel Robb's Crossing the Water Tuesday afternoon. Everything I hoped it would be and more. The voices he gave to the troubled teens he worked with made that story resonate.

Just started Marc Bojanowski's The Dog Fighter. First-person narrator has a very distinctive voice. Sucking me into the tale right now, set in 1940s Mexico. Hard life, fighting dogs for a living. Very "real", with a presence that's hard to describe yet, as I still have another 250 pages or so to go in this novel. Wonder why more authors don't spend more time developing their narrative voices compared to developing scenery. "World building" is but a pretty backdrop if the characters don't have distinctive voices that awaken the reader to what's really going on. Perhaps that's why I'm spending more time lately reading non-genre works; the voices are the key.

However, there is one genre story that does have a well-developed narrative voice. Began reading a PDF galley of Jeff VanderMeer's upcoming (November) Ambergris novel, Finch. Almost halfway done; will finish after finals are completed on Friday. Sharp, short sentences burst forth like machine-gun fire. Finch is hard-nosed and the prose accentuates this. VanderMeer always seems to craft his prose around the type of story (and its setting) that he wants to explore. This one feels like one is smelling the fungal rot of a decayed civilization, with fear and repression overlaying that first layer. Curious to see what I'll make of its conclusion.

And hey, even blog writers can very their voices to fit what they're reading, no? I don't think I had any sentences laden with dependent clauses for once. Guess that should tell you all you need to know about these tales and my reactions to them, no?


Anonymous said...

I don't think the rules of fiction apply to nonfiction, and in general I cringe when I see a review, for example, trying to mimic the voice of what it's reviewing.

What's interesting is that until a few years ago I assume most writers thought of their narratives as shaped entirely by their characters--that this affected the very style because even in third person you are still more or less seeing things from that person's perspective.

I don't any longer think that is true, but I do find it perplexing, and I think my favorite books and authors do often make that assumption.


Lsrry said...

I know, Jeff, but I was writing this really fast before going to bed and I realized in reading over it that I had somehow mimicked the style of the books I had been reading, so I added those paragraphs at the end to reflect that I did that. So it wasn't really that I set out to write that way, but rather that it came out like that nonetheless.

When I review Finch in a few months, I promise I won't write it in a style that seeks to be a mimicry of the book. Those reviews that do that tend to annoy me quite a bit, even if I don't quite cringe.

Thanks for commenting, as it will make me take more consideration before I write about "authorial intent," even if in this post my observations weren't about that but rather about my reactions to books that have strong narrative voices.

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