Novels that Contain Both First Person and Third Person Narration

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Novels that Contain Both First Person and Third Person Narration

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Apr 24, 2009, 1:07 am

I'm interested in knowing if you've read novels containing both first-person and third person narration. Have you read any novels that contained this technique? If so, what was your reaction? Was it effective/ineffective? How so? Did you enjoy the book?

Apr 24, 2009, 2:04 am

Stephen King's novel Christine is written in three parts. The first and third are in first person (from the protagonists point of view) and the middle is written in third person. Did make me feel that I was reading two different books about the same characters. The parts that are in first person allows the reader to really get into the mind of Dennis as he discovers the mystery of his best friends new car. By going into the third person in the second part, the reader is allowed to follow the story and read of events that Dennis could not have possibly known about.

Apr 24, 2009, 4:08 am

Bleak House has both a first person narrator and sections narrated in the third person. I loved the novel as a whole, but I did not like Esther, the first person narrator. She's one of those saintly semi-orphan Dickens heroines that comes across as annoying to a modern reader. However, I think her telling the story in the first person works well because Esther is so giving and self-sacrificing that she doesn't usually talk about herself. Also, she's a sane contrast to many of the deluded, terrible and terribly funny characters that cross her path. Dickens constantly jumps around to cover different sets of people so it's never too tiresome in her company. The third person narrator seems to have their own personality and provides history and overviews that Esther couldn't know by herself.

A more recent read was Nikolski, by Nicolas Dickner, which I got through the LT ER program. There are three main characters - the nameless first person and two others related to him in various ways. Overall, it was an enjoyable read. The author had a low-key, quirky style that I liked, but I kept wanting more first person sections. Mostly the focus is on the two third person characters. While the narrator sits at home and works in an odd bookshop, the other two get more action - traveling around the globe, going to school, stealing, having relationships etc. However, I was much more interested in the first person narrator because we get to hear his thoughts. Like Dickens, the author constantly cuts between his characters but because the chapters are so short, there's not much development - just quick descriptions of what happened in the past years or so (of course Bleak House was 900+ pages, so Dickens had much more to work with).

Also - #1 - are you interested in books with a 'framing story' motif? Some of those have third person/first person in the same book, but usually one person is telling a story to the other person. The narrative balance also tends to be mostly one over the other. Some examples - Interview with the Vampire or Melmoth the Wanderer. (Actually I think Melmoth has multiple types - stories in stories in stories.)

Apr 24, 2009, 4:11 am

I'm sure there are lots of examples - difficult to think of them when someone asks, of course. One I've read fairly recently is A cure for all diseases, a crime novel in Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe series. It alternates between a first-person narrative in a series of emails from one of the characters and a third-person narrative from the POV of the detectives. I thought it worked well. He did use a marked difference in style - and a visual difference in typeface - to separate the two.

Apr 24, 2009, 5:08 am

One of my favourite books, Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer uses first, second, and third person narration, for parts one, two, and three respectively. The effect is of a movie camera pulling back, from a single mind to an objective gaze at another character.

The first person narration suits the character, Nicholas - he's the most self-absorbed of the three protagonists and it's his actions that cause trouble and set the events of the novel in motion.
The second person narration was the strangest of course. It made me feel as if I was watching the character - Nicola, Nicholas's twin sister - from a position hovering just behind her head, following her around. Psychologically it's also quite odd, the narration describes Nicola's thoughts and actions, but it's not as intimate as first person, and not as objective as third person. It felt like another character who was remarkably perceptive was explaining Nicola's life to her.
The third person narration takes up the majority of the novel. Nicola disappears and Shadrach, her ex-boyfriend, has to enter the grotesque underground levels of the city to save her. You feel more distanced from Shadrach than you do from the other two characters, but it made him feel like the strongest, most well-adjusted character with whom the reader is able to face the horrors of the underworld.

Apr 24, 2009, 11:39 pm

Another one is The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg. The first section is by the 'Editor' who purports to give a factual account of the relationship between two brothers/enemies - one a genial man-about-town, the other a twisted, rabid Ultra-Calvinist.

The second section is told from the POV of the 'evil' brother. It works pretty well - the second section answers some of the questions from the first and the contrast between events shows that Robert Wringhim - the bad brother - is a very unreliable narrator. The first section portrays Wringhim as a despicable character so it's interesting to hear things from his perspective, though he's not shown to be any better in his own story.

Apr 25, 2009, 11:44 am

On a lighter note, Louis L'Amour's Galloway is written in two voices. Two brothers living their lives separately, slowly move to a place where their stories merge. Flagan speaks in first person, and Galloway's narrative is in 3rd person.

In my mind, the main thing the difference provides is emphasis. Flagan's story is seen as the more important one, and Galloway's story is secondary. I found it interesting and entirely clear. Never had a problem with it.

May 16, 2009, 8:31 pm

Ulysses is written in 1st (if you consider thoughts), 3rd and many other person narration.

May 16, 2009, 9:54 pm

Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm is written mostly in 3rd person, but has a long section written in first person plural ("we", meant as a pattern for a certain kind of experience). It's an interesting read, although kind of a mutt in terms of genre.

May 21, 2009, 6:58 pm

In the novel I'm currently reading, "The Lace Reader" by Brunonia Barry, the story is told in the first person by the main character, from her POV and in the third person for the other main character and his POV. Third person is also used by the 'narrator' for rest of the story/characters.
The changes back & forth between 1st & 3rd person are clearly delineated, by change of chapter mostly, so are easy to follow.
I've almost finished "The Lace Reader", a most enjoyable 'read'.

May 21, 2009, 8:02 pm

I just finished The Lost Hours, which has as the main, first person narrator Piper. The rest of the main characters get turns being focused on by a limited omniscient third person narrator.