The more I’m advised as an unpublished novelist to avoid a first person narrative (on the grounds it will be ‘harder to sell’ to an agent or publisher), the more I’m struck by how many successful novels (literary or otherwise) use this device. A case in point is Kashuo Ishiguro’s Never Let me Go, a compelling read I can’t imagine would work as well in third person. A random glance along the nearest bookshelf chez moi also reveals books as diverse as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Kite Runner, and The Crow Road. Right now, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were as many first person literary novels around as third person.
So what is it about first person that make it something to be avoided? Is it too limiting for a tyro? Am I in danger of slipping into autobiography? I’m hoping someone will enlighten me. At the moment I am taking the risk with my WIP, despite (or because of) the experience of a fellow writer who showed her novel to an agent. The agent showed an interest but asked for it to be rewritten in third person. The writer obliged and the book was still rejected.
Going back to Ishiguro, what impressed me was how the timescale was handled, jumping from one preiod to another to hint at the future while gradually revealing the past, all to squeeze maximum suspense out of the subject matter without ever becoming sensational. If anything I found the denouement (when we ‘catch up’ with the narrator) slightly less satisfying to read; I already knew all I needed to know.
If you’ve read the book, this might make sense. If not, read it! (Though not for light entertainment).