Narrators are an essential part of all novels, novellas and short story collections. They can either be one of the characters or mere fictional observers that take no part in the action. Some books even have more than one narrator, the story being told from different perspectives or points of view. Those perspectives can be conveyed in a variety of ways – via a first-person narrator; an omniscient narrator, who knowns everything about all of the characters; or a third-person narrator who adopts the point of view of a specific character.
I’m always drawn to books that feature chapters narrated from different perspectives, presenting a compelling mix of voices. From the ones that I’ve read and enjoyed, despite not all being favourites of mine, there are seven that immediately sprang to mind.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
At the beginning of the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, Robert Baratheon is the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and sits on the Iron Throne. After the death of his Hand, he invites his old friend Lord Eddard Stark to assume the suddenly vacant role. Peace is fragile, though, since the lords of Westeros are playing dangerous games and the exiled Targaryens want to take back their father’s throne. The intricate characters and the enthralling plot turn this book into a compelling mix of fantasy and political machinations. It is told in the third person from the perspectives of various characters: Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and six members of the Stark family – Ned, Catelyn, Bran, Sansa, Arya and Jon Snow.
Yeong-hye is at the centre of the affecting The Vegetarian by Han Kang. She has always been a dutiful wife, but one day, after having a distressing dream, she decides to become a vegetarian, leaving her family in shock. The book, which delves into mental health, abuse, desire and rising against social norms, is not told from her point of view, though. Readers are, instead, presented with the perspectives of her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister.
To write Burial Rites, Hannah Kent drew inspiration from a real-life event. Set in Iceland in 1829, the novel tells the story of Agnes, who was sentenced to death after being considered guilty of killing two men – Nathan, who was her lover, and Pétur. She has to wait for the day of her execution at the house of one of the officers in the district, where she receives the visit of Assistant Reverend Thorvardur. This touching and atmospheric story is told from three different perspectives – Agnes in the first person, Thorvardur and one of the members of Jón’s family in the third person.
Set in the 19th century during the last years of the second largest empire led by an African, Mulheres de Cinza, Woman of the Ashes in the translation into English, is told from the perspectives of Imani, which has a magical tone, and Sergeant Germano de Melo, this one via letters. Imani is a member of the Vachopi tribe, whose land is at the centre of a bloody dispute between the VaNguni (the rulers of the State of Gaza) and the Portuguese. The characters’ inner struggles are one of the highlights of this first book in a trilogy.
Often effortlessly funny, The Glorious Heresies focuses on the perspectives of five believable characters: Ryan, Maureen, Jimmy, Tony and Georgie. Their paths cross after Maureen unintentionally killing a man. Throughout the novel, Lisa McInerney delved into dysfunctional families, prostitution, drug dealing and the impact of religion in Ireland.
Ship of Magic is the first book in The Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb. Set in a fantasy world where the figureheads of ships become alive, it is told from various points of view in the third person. Some of the characters whose perspectives readers are presented with are: Kennit, the captain of a pirate ship; Althea, the younger daughter of Ephron Vestrit, and who was made to give up her place on board the Vivacia following her father’s death; Wintrow; Ronica; and the liveship Paragon. Most of the characters are believable in their imperfection.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Not only does the plot of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel move back and forth in time, but it is also told from the perspectives of five connected characters: an actor, the man who tried to save his life, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress, who is part of the Travelling Symphony. Set before and after a deadly pandemic, it both explores its negative consequences and highlights how some cultural activities still managed to subsist.
Do you enjoy books whose chapters are told from different perspectives? Which do you recommend? Tell me in the comments!