Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

First Person Narrators

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I’m currently reading ‘Lemon’ by Cordelia Strube (Coach House Books) and this has lead me to think about the perils and pleasures of first person narratives. Strube’s narrator, Lemon, is a sparky, hyper, angry teenager surrounded by useless adults and less-than-useless fellow teenagers; the world she inhabits – the world Strube creates through her eyes – is bitter, harsh, and funny.

My most recent novel, ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ is a first person narrative; the whole book is narrated by the maid, Sally Naldrett. I struggled for years to find the right voice for the book, and a big part of that struggle was around trying to avoid writing an entire novel in one first person narrator’s voice. Although many readers love first person narratives because of the immediacy and intimacy they can provide, as a reader myself, I’m not so certain.

I love the wider view that the third person and/or multiple points of view can give you in a novel, with the potential for psychological insights into a collection of characters. I read ‘Anna Karinina’ for the first time this past summer and was amazed by Tolstoy’s ability to take the reader right into the heart and soul of each one of his large cast of characters.

At the moment I’m tinkering with beginning a new fiction project, and I’m toying with the idea of telling part of the story from the first person point of view of a teenaged boy. Lots of potential problems here, yet again. not the least of which is that my own son is now a teenager, and I try to steer clear of writing about my own family. So we’ll see. ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ took me twelve years to write; I’m really hoping the next project happens a little more quickly. But in the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy Strube’s ‘Lemon’, and I’ll continue to ponder the business of point of view.


Yes, I'm that publisher.

Hello Edward -

Thanks for this very well-put comment. I agree with you, which is why I struggled against writing an entire novel in the first person - but, in the end, it had to be. But I'm looking forward to the fact that my next book will most definitely written in the third, at least partially (famous last words).

Thinking about these things, including the post I've just written on narrative voice, reminds me what is so distinct about the novel as a cultural form - its ability to provoke/provide/illuminate psychological insight into characters. No other form can do this to the extent and depth of the novel.


PS - Edward Carson - are you the publisher I once knew?

It's always a difficult choice for authors - first or third person narrative - though there is always the possibility of employing the intimacy of the "third person limited" as opposed to the third person omniscient narrator.

I've always been struck by the effect of these choices on the author's audience. First person, with its dedicated focus, seems inclined to providing its reader with a more restrictive, linear narrative experience within its structure, whereas third person links the reader to a reading experience more integrative in nature. Because with third person we are often forced to "piece together" the various narrative threads and characters, the potential for a much richer, metaphoric reading experience is present.

Edward Carson

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Kate Pullinger

Kate Pullinger writes for both print and digital platforms. In 2009 her novel The Mistress of Nothing won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction. Her prize-winning digital fiction projects, Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths: A Networked Novel, have reached audiences around the world.

Go to Kate Pullinger’s Author Page