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adele geras

I must say, I do not enjoy this current fashion for present tense/first person when done together! It always feels to me like a screenplay. There are writers who are good enough to pull it off, but in general, I prefer the good old third person narrator or the first person, telling a story about the past. I have nothing at all against multiple points of view and have done it in all my adult novels and most of my teenage ones. But that's different, I think. I hope I never write the kind of book where no one knows what's going on. That's death to a story, I reckon. And as for headless women...well! There is even one on the cover of William Trevor's Felicia's Journey. Wish that fad would pass....


As someone who believes (or affects to believe) that the first sentence is the most important in any novel (eg, All happy families..., It is a truth univesally acknowledged ...), I am fascinated by your example: "I walk into the kitchen. I see the dirty dishes in the sink. I reach for the Fairy Liquid." It has a powerful, explicit plangency, with a great richness of subtexts only available to sophisticated and alert exegesis. Shame on me, I don't recognise it - is it an early McEwan, perhaps, or a post modern (joanna) Trollope? Do tell!


In the style of the late Dick Emery, "Ooh, Lindsay, you are awful [thump], but I like you!"


This is an affectation that annoys me too. I think the Philippa Gregory that Liz Hunt refers to is her latest book about Mary, Queen of Scots. I remember it being an exhausting book because events were reprised from the perspectives of three characters - and not important events, one bit was actually about packing up to travel to a winter house!
I recently read Wolf Hall that suffered from the same problem. Here, the protagonist was Thomas Cromwell, but while it was written in third person singular (he walked up to the horse), the descriptions seemed to be in first person singular ("Wolsey put out his hand and he handed him the book - "he" here referring to Cromwell !!) . And not once in the book is Cromwell's name mentioned - it's always "he", which seems to have replaced "I". It was very confusing and extremely irritating.


Thinking back over the world's great literature, many, many novels tell the stories of more than one protagonist, shifting scene and place. Many are in first person, too. The recent fad for using present tense is not really so awful; I think it's the writing that makes a real difference. When an author is a real master (or mistress) of prose, then no matter how convoluted the plot or how many points of view are represented, it seems clear and lucid. Something like The Good Soldier, for instance. If the author is just an average writer, then stylistic quirks become irritating very quickly.

Susie Vereker

It so much depends on the genre. In what's known as commercial women's fiction, authors are encouraged to write from one main viewpoint, so the reader feels involved with the heroine. Perhaps PG and AS are trying to break away from these strictures. Sometimes it's interesting to see the plot from the perspective of a minor character, imo, and it's quite difficult to write a long book from only one vp, though for example John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany brings it off. In contrast, Alastair McC Smith uses several vps and I've just been reading Mary Wesley and see that she hops into everyone's heads, as well as beds.

Susie Vereker

Sorry, I mean Alexander McC Smith! (By the way, I don't know why Typepad doesn't remember me on this blog, though it does everywhere else.) Also, Cornflower, I'd love to be able to search on this blog.

Simon T

OH, I can't STAND first person/present tense combination. Present continuous even worse. And I agree, at one point every modern novel I read seemed to be split into various narratives. Sometimes this can be done excellently (like Angela Young's Speaking of Love, for example) but it should never be done out of laziness, of course.

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