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Books that Gave Me Inspiration

I believe that most authors read all the time. Then, if I read a phrase that intrigues me, I keep it in a folder. When I was writing The House on Harrigan’s Hill I would sometimes adapt a phrase to get the sentence I want.

This is true also for the style of the narrative. The House on Harrigan’s Hill may puzzle some readers. It may not suit to read the story from the third person point of view and then have the narrator step forth in first person to insert a chapter of reflection brought forth from the on-going narrative. However, I read several books using variations of the technique before I decided my story would benefit from two points of view.

Margaret Drabble’s The Waterfall introduced me to the style. Jane, the protagonist, is cerebral and analytic of her life circumstances, but is physically attracted to her cousin’s husband when they come to help her after the birth of a child. Her husband has extracted himself from the disastrous marriage just before the birth. Or has she forced him out of her life? At first, the narrative is told in the third person, but as Jane analyzes her predicament she turns to first person.

Wallace Stegner’s 1972 Pulitzer prize-winning Angle of Repose is written in such a style. Lyman Ward, the wheelchair bound protagonist who has lost the ability to deal with his family, describes his difficulties in the first person. He writes about his grandparents from the third person giving voice to his beloved grandmother’s and his stalwart grandfather’s frontier adventures. Chapter breaks are not used; in fact, the reader often slips from the first person view to the third person narrative of a grandparent before the reader realizes who is speaking.

A Friend of the Earth by T. Coraghassan Boyle employs the first person and third person. The novel is set in 2025 after environmental destruction in the world. The protagonist, Tyrone, is caring for a menagerie of animals still alive in Santa Barbara, California. He describes his circumstances in the first person. In third person, he drifts back in memory of the event in 1985 when as a part of an environmental insurgency group, he prepares a plot in the southern Sierra Nevada to destroy a timber logging company. His wife and daughter leave him. By the end of the novel his wife comes back and the meaninglessness of the actions that seemed important in 1985 are resolved.

Snow Mountain Passage by James D. Houston describes the horrors of blizzards in the Sierra Nevada. The author places Patty Reed’s remembrance chapters of the winter in the mountains in first person. The adventures of her father, James Reed, are described in the third person (in present tense!) as he tries to round up enough volunteers to join him in the journey back into the Sierra to rescue his family and the remainder of the Donner Party.

In The Holder of the World Bharati Mukherjee interrupts the narrative with comment in the first person by the narrator of the story, Beigh Masters. Hannah Easton, born in the American colonies in 1670, is inquisitive, vital, awake to her own sense of self and purpose. After traveling to Mughal, India, in the company of her husband, an English trader, Hannah sets her own course into the life and imagination of the country, “translating” herself into the Salem Bibi, the white consort of a Hindu raja. And it is the story of Beigh Masters, born in New England in the mid-twentieth century, an “asset-hunter,” who stumbles on the scattered record of Hannah’s life.

Are you interested in the style where characters assume both the third person and the first person to complete the story? Any of these books will intrigue you. - original post July 2012

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