Jan. 16th, 2009

girlyswot: (flaming)
After [livejournal.com profile] ankaret's recommendation I made a point of watching Victorian Farm last night. As soon as the narrator mentioned that they were in Shropshire I thought, 'I wonder if that's Acton Scott,' and lo, it was! So that was a pleasing moment of smugness for me.

I did like it a lot. My absolute favourite moment was when they explained that they were going to put the mangold-wurzels into a tump for the winter and, just as I was thinking, 'Never heard of a tump. Don't you have clamps of mangold-wurzels?', the narrator continued to explain that tumps are also called clamps. So now we all know what Rowan was doing while the others were off having fun at school in End of Term.

I could have done without the narrator constantly telling us that 'Ruth is doing the laundry using a Victorian technique'; 'Peter is ploughing the fields using a Victorian method'; 'Alex is tiling the roof using a...' pause for dramatic tension '...Victorian technique.' Yes, thank you. The programme is called Victorian farm. We are not stupid. We do not have to be told that Henry Stephen's 'The Book of the Farm' is the Victorian farming bible every sodding time it is mentioned.

But it was very nice to see them just rolling up their sleeves and getting on with it, whether it was Ruth spending four days out of every week doing the laundry, or cooking and serving a cow's tongue, and then spending an hour in a cold, dark room every night stitching a pair of braces for a Christmas present, or the boys raddling the ram or building the pigsty or feeding the animals while it was snowing. And that Christmas dinner did look delicious. I will be watching again.


Jan. 16th, 2009 04:33 pm
girlyswot: (novel rules)
I've been thinking about this subject for a little while and then last week I started reading Ian McEwan's Enduring Love which crystallised some of the thoughts I've been having.

It seems to me that a lot of advice to writers at the moment focusses on the 'point of view character' rather than the 'narrator'. The point of view character is usually (always?) part of the action and indeed the advice is often to choose the character who is most affected by the action, to give the greatest dramatic impact to the writing. Stories written in this way are often very good at drawing the reader in, so that we feel as if we are living the events of the story ourselves. This can be extremely effective indeed. The 'book' disappears and the 'world' is created instead.

What has irritated me is the implication that this is somehow the only way to write a story, or the 'best' way to write a story. Yet, when I look back at the books I most love, I find that very few of them indeed were written this way. I like books that give me different perspectives. In fact, I really like books written by that most-maligned of characters, the omniscient narrator. I like stories that offer a reflection on the events they relate. I like knowing more than the characters sometimes. I like being reminded that I am a reader. I like to be told a story, without being expected to live through it.

In Enduring Love, there is a first person narrator who is at the centre of events. But there is a very clear sense that he is relating this story with the perspective of hindsight, offering us his later reflection on the events. So he says things like:

What idiocy, to be racing into this story and its labyrinths, sprinting away from our happiness...

Knowing what I know now...

What I describe is shaped by what Clarissa saw too, by what we told each other in the time of obsessive re-examination that followed...

He's telling us his story, not as he experienced it in the moment, but as he thinks of it now, at some later date, after he's talked it through with others and thought about it. He can draw us in with his hints of things to come. He can give us different perspectives - not only what he saw, but what Clarissa later told him she saw. He can be conscious about the process of editing and shaping a story out of the events of his life. He's not completely omniscient, but omniscient enough (I haven't got very far through it yet; this may change and he may prove to be an unreliable narrator).

In Francine Prose's 'Reading Like A Writer' she talks about the problem of knowing the implied reader. I think this is a thing McEwan does well. There is a very strong sense in his books of these stories being told in specific situations to a specific audience. We know (by the end, at least) who Briony in Atonement is writing her story for and that shapes the story throughout.

So here's a little challenge. Who are your favourite literary narrators (named or unnamed)?


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