Posted by: oneyearbook | March 19, 2009

First person challenge

I I I - it just looks weird

I I I - it just looks weird

There’s still a part of my brain that really wants to go back to the whole-book third person thing. It is under siege by the forces of practicality, not to mention the forces of my mother, who very much prefers first-person narration, she says.

Related to that, I’m looking for reading suggestions: literary fiction that successfully uses the first-person POV. Books which have a first-person narrator who is narrating events happening to other people don’t count. (For example, I’m reading Zorro, by Isabel Allende, right now, and while it is strongly implied throughout that one of the characters is, in fact, narrating, there’s no I-voice in most of the scenes.) So far I’ve had a go at my shelves and found Sister Crazy, by Emma Richler; the aforementioned Wonder Boys and Lolita, plus Nabokov’s other masterpiece, Pale Fire; The Time Traveler’s Wife (related: big congrats to Niffennegger on her recently announced multi-million dollar contract for her sophomore novel); Heart of Darkness, twice over (main narrator and then the story that gets told is in first as well); Portnoy’s Complaint; parts of Cloud Atlas; and Midnight’s Children (which I’m embarassed to say that I haven’t read yet). That’s more than I thought it would be. I’m still looking for more; suggestions welcome by email or in the comment section.

To the best suggestion (as judged by me) will go an autographed page from my first draft. That’ll be worth framing, right?



  1. I am obviously drawn to first person POV, the last three books I read are written from that perspective. They are, in no particular order, The Other by David Guterson – he of Snow Falling on Cedars fame; Netherland by Joseph O’Neill;and The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabrielle (some brain candy I bought and it was actually very enjoyable). Oh also just read The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, also 1st person POV.

  2. Because I am desperate to win such a prize: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time is a great first-person novel.
    I’m sure you’ve read Margaret Atwood and I think a couple of hers are also written in first person.

  3. A quick browse through my bookshelf indicates that I might be more drawn to the first-person narrative than I realized. The Time Traveler’s Wife was the first example that came to my mind, but I’ll throw a few more out there:

    All three novels by Wally Lamb (She’s Come Undone, I Know This Much is True, The Hour I First Believed)

    Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

    Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

    White Oleander by Janet Fitch

    Life of Pi by Yann Martel

    Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

    Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

    The Sun Also Rises and Farewell to Arms by Hemingway

    The Beach by Alex Garland

    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

    The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

    A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (sort of interesting as the other three I own, The Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp, and A Widow for One Year, are all in third person)

    Hopefully this list isn’t going overboard! But I thought you might appreciate knowing how many I own that fit the bill. I think both first and third person have value, and I think the way you’ve described employing both of them is smart and will result in something really powerful.

  4. I’m desperate to win this prize, but fear that weeks and months of Jonathan Kellerman and Iris Johansen have taken a toll. So I wandered over to the book shelf to see what I’d deemed worth keeping.
    Other than A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) which I return to every couple of years, Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) is the only thing that recently struck me enough to recommend to others – and I read that two years ago. It is first person.
    The good news is while in front of the book shelf I opted to re-read one of my Timothy Findley novels… You Went Away which appears to be in third person. Guess I have more feedback when I finish 🙂

    • I love You Went Away. There’s a sort of quietness about that book that reminds me of family holidays where the rain keeps you inside all week, playing cards – when you look back you realize that even though it wasn’t all sis-boom-bah excitement and running about outside all the time, it was still very pleasant. Actually, lots of exciting (or big, I guess, some of them are more sad than exciting) things happen in the book, but he just seems to have a talent for avoiding making it all melodramatic.

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