Meet the most important character in any book – the narrator

July 8th, 2011 § 0 comments

The most important character in any book is the one who tells the story. It is the first character an author must create. If the narrator isn’t interesting, I’m not interested.

Half the fun I have when reading comes from the tone and implied worldview of the narrator. The more distinctive it is, the better – from Nabokov’s charming deviants to Haruki Murakami’s world-weary lovebirds.

Of course, it may be different for other readers. In fact, I know it is. Because the vast majority of novels are stories told by boring narrators.

For the rest, a good part of the rest of my reading enjoyment comes from the prose itself. I want to read a sentence or paragraph and get some enjoyment out of the way the words have been strung together, or the imagery used, something in the language medium itself. Again, the name of Nabokov springs to mind, as well as Cormac McCarthy, Salman Rushdie, J.G. Ballard…

Obviously, I’m also in the minority in this regard, as even a cursory look at the most popular books will confirm.

For someone who desperately loves reading, there are an awful lot of books that hold no appeal. Fortunately for book sales, tastes differ.

Most people presumably read mainly because they want to follow the story. They want likeable characters who overcome their troubles, preferably against a background that has romantic appeal – whether that’s a balmy Mediterranean island, gritty inner-city streets or whatever

(Though not often recognised as such, stories of tough drunkards on dirty streets are as much a romantic fiction as Mills & Boon. Neither Tom Waits or The Carpenters have the monopoly on reality – they simply peddle different kinds of romance.)

I like story too, and the milieu of Tom Waits, Charles Bukowski and John Fante. There are even books I read mainly for the setting, like Alan Furst’s 1930s spy novels and Tony Hillerman’s Navajo crime stories. But, for me, the real excitement of reading comes from the narrative style.

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