Jane and I once got a rejection from a literary agent for one of our books that said this:
Having read these opening chapters I am not really sure that this is for me. I find the conversational tone quite wearing after a while, and as I imagine the whole novel is going to be written from Sally's point of view, I wonder whether you would be better off with someone who is captivated by her...
I know how she felt, NOT about Sally or our book, but generally speaking: I agree that if you don’t like a first person narrator’s voice, you’re not going to enjoy the book.
I just picked up from the library a well-written novel with impeccable reviews, read 30 pages of it and then put it down. The novel was written in the first person and the narrator’s voice grated on me. It could have been a mood thing: I may have another bash at it in the future. Possibly.
But the issue is not just about the voice of a first person narrator, it’s also to do with style. There are some writers whose style is so compatible with your sensibilities that when you read their books, you feel as if you are swimming in pure cool water surrounded by a beautiful landscape of hills and trees. It’s a feeling that I find hard to describe. Perhaps it’s more apt to say that you feel as though you’re back swimming in your own amniotic fluid.
I can only think of a few writers who fit into this category for me - Carol Shields, Sebastian Barry, Helen Dunmore’s writing in The Siege, and Christopher Tilghman’s in his book of short stories, In a Father’s Place. Two days ago, I desperately needed an intelligent book to distract me from the news, and Carol Shields’ Unless came to the rescue. It is a book about unhappiness and feminism and family and that makes it sound ridiculously worthy and way beyond ordinary, low-brow mortals like me…but it isn’t. And it’s just what I need right now.
(p.s. if you had not realised, the title of this post refers to the ceasefire in Gaza.)