Monday, 8 October 2007

First person singular

I was thinking about the Libby Purves novel again and realised that the real problem with it for me is that the first-person narrator is so self-conscious. This only works, I think, if there's an explanation for the first-person narration. If it's unexplained, too much intrusion from the narrative voice can destroy the whole illusion -- after all, a first-person narrative is intrinsically artificial. ("Odsbobs! I hear him just coming in at the Door. You see I write in the present Tense," as Fielding says in Shamela. There is nothing new under the sun...)

What I'd have done -- and this may only make sense if you've read the book -- is address the whole novel to the daughter, so that the story is the mother's explanation. That would also avoid the problem that if it was real -- which you are by implication being asked to believe while you're reading it -- there's no way the daughter would let it be published.

I read Espedair Street again, to compare it. What I like most about it is the physical sense you get of the protagonist: Banks is very consistent about it, and I like that. Purves's narrator was a bit too generic, in comparison. Hmmm. Need a close textual analysis, really. I'll stop there. Oh, but yes, I have read The Business: I've read all Banks's fiction, but not all the science fiction, which I think it's fair to say is more variable. I started one that was purely about robots and was obviously a bit of an experiment, and it didn't really grab me. My favourite, which I suspect I share with a lot of people, is The Player of Games. Also re-read Complicity. It was nastier than I'd remembered. I wonder if Banks's politics are going to make the books date really badly?

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