Monday, June 13, 2005

Reader Response II

Reader Response is wonderful because it means I have readers.

Soon after I announced here that I was joining adbooks someone from said listserv who reads my blog wrote to respond to my post on How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. This reader hadn't liked How I Live Now anywhere near as much as I did for a few reasons. The one that really struck me was that when we get to the end of the book we learn that the main character is now a few years older than she was at the time the story takes place and is, presumably, telling the story from that more adult vantage. At the end of the book, she uses a more adult voice. So, my reader asked, if she is an adult recounting her younger experience, why the young voice in the earlier part of the book? Why isn't she using an adult voice, since she is an adult? The situation is vaguely similar to that of Kathy in Never Let Me Go, who uses the same voice throughout.

I thought this was a good question for two reasons: 1. The ending to How I Live Now wasn't my favorite part of the book, anyway; and 2. I think it touches on a point-of-view problem. Point of view is some kind of mystical, long-term problem for me.

If I understand point-of-view correctly, and, yes, that is a big if, it involves to a number of things. It's not just a matter of who is talking but when that person is talking. Is it a first- or third-person narrator? Is the story being told as if it is unfolding before us or is it being told as if it happened well in the past? A bunch of other things fall under the umbrella of point-of-view, but I don't remember them right now.

The whole question of point of view inspired me to read ahead in Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by Rust Hills, which I have been slogging through for several months. I say slogging because though I like the book and am getting a lot out of it, I don't feel it's very well organized, which hinders my ability to retain information. Plus it's a book on writing. I don't exactly go running to pick it up. But I read ahead on the point-of-view section to see if I could do a little study that would help me with the How I Live Now question.

In short, I didn't get a lot of help from Hills' book. I do know now that in the nineteenth century authors wrote "big" books with point-of-view that moved around frequently and that Henry James is responsible for popularizing the "point-of-view character"--meaning that even in a third-person book, the story focuses on one character. Now I feel I really ought to reread Turn of the Screw. Under no circumstances will I try again to read Portrait of a Lady.

Wait! What was I talking about? Oh, yes. How I Live Now and Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. The big thing that I've learned, so far, from Writing in General is that the main character in a piece of writing should change, should move, should be dynamic. Daisy in How I Live Now definitely changes. Perhaps the change in her voice signals that change. Perhaps it's appropriate for her to have two voices since time and experience have changed her.

Now, the question remains...does changing the voice work? Who gets to decide?

I desperately need to find a monastery in the mountains where I can go and study point-of-view with a point-of-view master.

No comments: