Recently I’ve read two great books (both with wonderful covers!) – All That I Am by Anna Funder and Secrets Of The Tides by Hannah Richell. Both stories use more than one narrator and both also play around with time and tense.
In All That I Am Funder uses dual narrators Ruth and Toller. Ruth’s story is told from her perspective as an old woman living in Sydney, looking back on her life in Germany at the time when Hitler was seizing power and also in London where she lived as a refugee along with other members of the resistance movement. Toller’s version of events is told from a closer time perspective – just prior to the outbreak of the war, and from the United States where he himself has found refuge. Both stories revolve around the relationship each of the narrators had with Dora, Ruth’s cousin and Toller’s lover, whose story is central to the plot.
When I first started reading I preferred Ruth’s narration to Toller’s but as I became more involved with each of the characters I realised that having this dual perspective allows the reader to have a deeper understanding of Dora (who really is the protagonist) as well as a more rounded understanding of the events that were unfolding in Europe as Hitler grew more powerful. Funder uses the narrator’s names as chapter headings to signal the switch which allows the reader to follow the story without confusion. The use of two narrators helps build tension as one character’s story is suspended while we jump to the other narrative. Having Ruth tell her story from a much later time period also fills in the gaps that Toller’s leaves – Ruth is able to provide a broader, longer term view of the events.
In Secrets of The Tides the story is told from the perspective of a mother and her two daughters but this time pivots around a single event in which all three were involved. Helen, the mother and her two daughters, Dora (yes, another one!) and Cassie tell their stories from various time perspectives, again the reader being alerted to the switch via the use of the character’s names. The seemingly random way the narrative jumps around in time and place allows the reader to piece the story together much like you would a jigsaw puzzle. As the ramifications of the “event” unfold, and each character continues with her version of the story, the reader is drawn further and further into the drama.
Once again I started off with a favourite narrator, Dora, but the more I read the more sympathy I felt for Cassie and also for Helen. Richell establishes empathy for each of the characters from the outset and although each reader will no doubt have their own “favourite” the structuring of the story and the changing in perspective does help you to at least understand where each of the characters is coming from. There’s an interview with the author in the back and also a great series of questions that Book Groups will love.
So I think the use of more than one narrator is a great way of developing characters, allowing the reader to piece together the story and also building suspense – as long as the reader is given some signal that the narrator is changing (as well as the time frame if that’s also the case). I’d highly recommend each of these books as great reads.
Have you read any books with more than one narrator recently?
Have you written any?
Would love to hear your thoughts.
All That I Am wins the Miles Franklin: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/anna-funders-all-that-i-am-wins-miles-franklin-20120620-20ocj.html
For more information on Secrets Of the Tides go to: http://hannahrichell.wordpress.com/