Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Example of reader-character separation

An example of a story where the character has one experience and the reader another--

Never Let Me Go (Ishiguro). This was just released as a film. The book is in first-person.

Don't want to spoil it (though suspense isn't the point), but the main character thinks she is in a book about going to a boarding school and adolescent relationships. But rather quickly the reader is in another story, about children being exploited and the intractability of fate. The great tension here is that the main character accepts as a given what the reader instinctively resists.

What are other examples where the author wants the reader to feel something other than what the POV character feels?
This is no big thrill in omniscient, you understand. With omniscient, the reader is "above" any characters, and so expects to feel more or other (ironic detachment, amusement). But in deep POV (or first-person), the separation in experience might be more subversive, as it's unexpected. (We're in the head and body of the character, feeling what he feels.)



Tara Maya said...

I think you really captured it. I loved that book, and I sensed the "subversive" nature of it, but I love the way you explain it as reader-character separation.

Anonymous said...

None but the Brave (original: Leutnant Gustl) by Arthur Schnitzler. It was published in 1900, and was the first German novella to be written in stream on consciousness.

The separation is between how the character sees/judges himself and how the reader sees him. It's fascinating because even though we see him and his actions only through his own eyes/thoughts, we get a very different impression than he does.

Mina @cluttery said...

Is this related to "unreliable narrator?" Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, or that sleazy guy in Lolita being prime examples?

I can't think of examples in any contemps.

Mina @cluttery said...

Another ?:

Are they usually children or mentally ill in some way (or perverse)?

Edittorrent said...

None but the brave, none but the brave, none but the brave deserve the fair.
Great title!

Mina, I think you're right, that unreliable narrators create this separation. But I think a character who really wants something badly might create it.

Also in romances, the reader's going to fall in love with the hero when the heroine's still thinking of him as an obstacle.

Edittorrent said...

I'm thinking of that scene in All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy -- they're riding back from Mexico and they run into some bad guys, and Bad Things Happen. Only we don't know what happens because it's first person and the narrator doesn't narrate it. The idea is that the events are so horrifying that the 1st person narrator can't even acknowledge them.

I'm not sure that this creates the kind of separation you discuss, but it's a similar technique in which pov creates subtext. Hemingway does it, too.


Edittorrent said...

btw, A, the Independent panned the film. 2 stars.


(the books are almost always better, anyway)

Edittorrent said...

Salon and Time loved the film, however. But it apparently doesn't matter because it's not playing anywhere. Even in Chicago, it's only at one theater and just for a weekend!
However, that Resident Evil film is on 3 screens at my local multiplex. :(