Monday, November 8, 2010


One of my favorite series of books is Ruth Elwin Harris' Sisters of the Quantocks Hills. The story is about four intelligent, artistic (and orphaned) sisters and is set in England in the years before the beginning of World War II.

Each book is written from the perspective of one of the sisters. A period of time overlaps from the end of one book to the beginning of the next. Additionally, each of the sisters reflects on a walk that they took to the Quantocks Hills with the handsome sons of their guardian before the war broke out. The books have both linear and overlapping narration: each time an event is described, the reader sees it from a different perspective and learns something critical to the plot or about the characters. It's an awesome technique that left me gasping with oh-my-goodness and oh-no-she-didn't moments.

As an avid reader of series books, I've rarely found examples of overlapping narration. Many series books are linear, with each one bringing the story forward and setting it up for the next one. There are just a few that I found where the author is writing about the same situation from different character's perspective. What disappointed me about these books is that I feel like the author didn't take advantage of the chance to describe the situation from different character's perspectives. The author simply chronicled each character's reaction to it.

What the other characters are thinking is of enormous interest to me as a reader, which I think is why I like the overlapping narration technique so much. I think many authors have felt the same way, as evidenced by re-telling of literally famous stories, such as C.S. Lewis' retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche in Till We Have Faces and Gregory Maguire's Wicked.

Here's my question: what are your favorite books that use narration like this?

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness Till We Have Faces is such a haunting book.

    The Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian are amongst my all-time favorites, and they're from two POV's.