Monday, April 11, 2011

On wanting to like the narrator

To label someone an "unreliable narrator" is, in a certain sense, to understand that the narrator is human and neither omniscent nor objective. Unreliable narrators run the gamut - from the charming but mischevious Huck Finn to any number of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's old, lacivious men. Often unreliable narrators display a crucial human flaw in their unreliability, be it pride or shame or incurable optimism. I love how fiction shows humanity in its rich complexity and so I like narrators that aren't afraid to show their bias.

But it gets complicated when the person narrating is completely despicable or utterly detached from reality. Hubert Hubert in Lolita was pretty appalling but he works hard to make us like him, or at least understand. The books I've been reading lately, however, don't even try. One is about a rat who reads literature and loves books more than food. Sounds like a good premise, right? Except that he's so insecure about being a rat that he is constantly whining and completely pretentious. Not someone I want to spend 200 pages with. So I put that book down and tried another, one I had high hopes for. But that narrator turned out to be completely, off-the-wall insane, without the advantage of realizing it. Why should I want to read the narrative of a crazy person, why spend my time sifting through his madness to find what's relevant and what's not? I know some people think we should be able to learn from narrators we can't stand and I'm willing to admit that that's true. I am certain I could learn something about humanity by spending time listening to the unhinged rants of the mentally ill. But neither exercise sounds pleasant so I'm going to pass.

Which means that I am in a really dry spell for books! I'm dying for a sink-right-in-and-immerse-yourself-so-you-never-want-to-take-a-breath book. Any suggestions?? A historical epic would be wonderful, for example.

1 comment:

Skeebop said...

Forget humanity, think about all that you could learn about Rodentity if you'd only give that poor rat a chance.

He's just misunderstood.

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma