Books with unique "narrators"
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I just finished The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and enjoyed it quite a bit. Since the narrator of the book is a dog it got me thinking about other non-fantasy books with unique narrators. I thought of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which is narrated by Death, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, narrated by a young man with Aspergers.
Can you add others?
The Collector Collector by Tibor Fischer is narrated by an ancient bowl that tells the story of the various people who've owned it over the centuries.
The first novel that springs to mind is Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red. There are many different narrators, switching chapter by chapter; besides the human characters who take that role, it is also given to such unlikely objects as a dog, a gold coin, and the color red.
Perhaps less unique than the above, but I think still somewhat off the beaten path, is the voice of a 5-year-old child as one of the narrators of Barbara Kingslover's The Poisonwood Bible.
Some chick lit, like Sarah Mlynowski's Fishbowl, has the author herself come in and do a bit of the narration, talking directly at the reader. Alison Pace's Pug Hill also does this, though through the voice of the first-person character-narrator.
Motherless Brooklyn has a man with Turret's Syndrome as the narrator. It is one of the most original mysteries I have read in decades.
Ben Okri's spirit child (abiku) narrator in The Famished Road may qualify as well.
Rob Shearman's Tiny Deaths is a book of short stories but those stories include ones narrated by a girl reincarnated as an ornamental ashtray and one by an imaginary child.
It's a great book and he's a Library Thing author too.
Feral is written in third person but from the point of view of a non-anthropomorphic cat living in a subway station. It's about a gang war and related events, but the only events shown are the ones the cat sees in the station.
One of my favorite middle school/junior high level book is I, Jack. It is narrated by a well-meaning but totally clueless yellow lab - with footnotes by a couple snarky cats. It is a hoot - I laughed 'til I cried.
There is a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin called The Direction of the Road that is from the perspective of a tree. In fact, her book Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences has a few stories with unconventional narrators.
There was a story I read years ago called The Dark Gentleman by G.B. Stern which, while it is written in third person, centers on the lives of some dogs that can talk to one another but aren't anthropomorphic. They refer to their humans as "The Legs."
Shoebag is from the perspective of Shoebag the cockroach-turned-human. (Cockroaches are named after the place they were born; I think he had a brother named Coffee Pot)
Agatha Christie's famous detective novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is narrated by Hercule Poirot's assistant, Dr. Sheppard. He is revealed at the end of the book as the murderer as well as the story teller.
When published, many thought this quite controversial and a cheat to the reader as an unreliable narrator would naturally leave out incriminating clues and a reader would be given an incomplete picture. In time, however, it has come to be thought of as a brilliant and ground-breaking plot twist in the detective story genre.
One of my favorite books, A Night in the Lonesome October, is from the perspective of a dog.
Did you know that there are two such books that were written by an LT author?
Those two books, A Dog About Town and A Dog Among Diplomats were written by J.F. Englert. The books could be called urban mystery/humor. I read the former and found it delightful. In both books, the narrator is
ETA: *Oops! Ralph is my cousin. I must have had him on my mind! Thanks for the correction, J.F. and Randolph. :)
Didn't know that there were so many dog narrators around! Have to check those books, they seem to be funny and interesting.
Time to mention one of my favorite authors and novels:
Russell Banks' Continental Drift is narrated by a mouth-man, a voodoo spirit. Though this sounds queer and artsy, to my mind, it works great.
#18 - eek, spoiler warning, please! I've already read the book, but I'd hate to see the twist ruined for anyone else.
The book thief by Markus Zusak simply must be mentioned for its originally narrator-Death. And Zusak portrayed death as a compassionate, weary entity during WWII Germany...very well done and a brilliant book.
Michael Chabon's The final solution is, in part, narrated by the African-grey parrot, Bruno. It is a brilliant chapter that creates a closeness between the character and the reader that is exclusive and reveals an important plot point of the story.
18,23> Yes, seconded! I *haven't* read the book yet and am kind of disappointed now. Please put a spoiler warning in!
One I just picked up the other day, Thy servant a dog: told by boots. The language is a bit stilted, but hey, what do you want from a dog?
ETA: touchstone seems flukey.
I hope this isn't too obvious to mention, but the first section of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury is narrated by a man suffering from an unspecified mental handicap that both limits his comprehensive abilities and causes him to perceive the past as happening coincidentally with the present.
Mark Z. Danielewski's The Fifty Year Sword is narrated by five people simultaneously (or as close as a novel can get. They pick up in the middle of each other's sentences). It was pretty tough for me to get through just because I felt like I was missing so much subtext, but it's a rewarding little story, and the format is pretty unforgettable (each narrator is identified with different colored quotation marks).
#22 - the narrator of The Metamorphosis isn't a cockroach, he's a conventional third-person narrator.
#30: Certainly didn't mean to (or think I did) imply he was a cockroach ... but, since he was transformed overnight into some kind of insect-like creature, I would hardly consider him conventional.
I think #30's point was that Gregor was not the narrator. Of course, it's entirely possible that the narrator was a cockroach...
Passed along by J.F. Englert:
"Thank you, SqueakyChu...But my name is Randolph, not Ralph (no offense to the Ralph's out there).
Also from Randolph:
"Also, according to V. Nabakov (a trained entomologist), the insect in Kafka's classic was likely a dung beetle.
Yeah, but who is going to listen to a dog? They can't even look up.
Just to clarify my comment in #32, The Metamorphosis has a conventional third-person narrator (as ajsomerset pointed out). The protaganist of the story, Gregor Samsa, is a "monstrous vermin" of some sort, but he is not the narrator.
Personally, i always thought of Gregor as some sort of centipede, what with all the little wriggling legs.
Anyway, i'll stop flogging that particular dead horse.
I guess i should actually contribute something to the original question now. The narrator of The Bug Wars is a intelligent lizard that has a variable height of between five and seven foot, depending on his mood. But non-human narrators are not that unusual in science fiction.
I just bought Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker and it is narrated by a demon trapped in the pages of the book. It even starts with a warning from the demon to burn the book before it destroys the person reading it (me!)
Oh, and Joe Hill has a short story in 20th Century Ghosts narrated or from the point of view of a teenage boy turned into a giant insect, which is interesting.
Do some dead teenagers qualify as unique narrators? If so, I add Stewart O'Nan's The Night Country to the list.
You know, I wanted to offer an official apology for the Metamorphosis thing back in #30-31 ... when I saw the word "cockroach," my brain got completely derailed ... sorry 'bout that.
The book "Severed" by Robert Olen Butler is a series of monologues by people who have just had their heads cut off. Each short monologue is the same length, corresponding to the estimated length of time that brain activity would continue. Butler's "Intercourse" is a series of interior monologues by people having sexual intercourse--the one person's thoughts on the left page, the other's on the right.
When I wrote Game as Ned I began with a sole narrator who is silent, 17, and has an autism spectrum disorder. After hearing about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I decided to add a co-narrator, a 16-yo female who talks too much - balancing the silence of the initial narrator.
Other intriguing narrators that spring to mind (apart from Zusak's Death which is already noted here) are those in:
- John Marsden's So Much to Tell You - A boarding school student who isn't telling us something, which adds menace to the back-story she is hiding.
- The outlaw Ned Kelly in Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang - a narrator with Irish fire in his belly, a colorful turn of phrase and a disregard for punctuation.
Iain M. Banks's Feersum Endjinn is narrated by a young man who can't spell, which could be irritating at first, but I found it quite natural after I got used to it.
#14 - MerryMary, I, Jack looks wonderful. Jack has a website where you can read a snippet from the book and the first paragraph had me laughing. I'll have to get this for my niece. She loves animal stories as long as it's not about an animal being treated cruelly by humans, and she'll love the humour. Her birthday is in Feb, so perfect timing. Even though you posted way back in Oct, I'm only just getting back onto LT now. Serendipity on the internet :o)
Good to hear from you, my dear. Read it before you give it to her. You. Will. Laugh. (To quote mrgrooism)
You Are a Dog and We Are the Cat -- by LT author Terry Bain -- funny, spot-on perspectives of household pets.
Matthew Kneale’s When We Were Romans -- narrated by a precocious young boy (approach reviews with caution; mine is spoiler-free).
Steve Martin’s novella, The Pleasure of My Company -- narrated by an autistic/OCD.
Some passages in Stephen King’s Cujo are in the perspective of a rabid dog.
edited for wonky touchstone
One of my favorite short stories is Gene Wolfe's "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories," which is the title story in his collection The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories. It's one of the few stories I've seen written in the second person. I imagined transforming it into third and it didn't work nearly as well.
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