First person, third person

I continue to intermittently make my way through Lee Child’s oeuvre, and I recently listened to The Enemy, from 2004.. It has much of what I’ve come to expect from a Jack Reacher novel: a crackerjack (if occasionally absurd) plot, much gratuitous violence, well-developed (if occasionally absurdly villainous) characters, and a ton of background information, some interesting, some not so much (for example, there is a multi-page essay on crowbars that I could have done without).

What’s different about The Enemy is that it’s told in the first person (and, less importantly, it’s a prequel, taking place back in 1990, when he was still in the military). I didn’t know you could mix third-person and first-person narrative in a series!  Does anyone else do it? It works just fine, although I always have the same reaction to first-person stories like The Enemy: when is the narrator writing this story down?  Why?

This sort of baffles me in the books in my first-person Last P.I. series (the most recent of which, Where All the Ladders Start, is available at fine online retailers everywhere!). Walter’s friend Art, proprietor of Art’s Filthy Bookstore, is always badgering him to write up his cases, and Walter is always making excuses about why he can’t do it.  But in fact, here we are reading the first-person narratives.of those very cases.   How did that happen?  Is Walter lying to Art?  Does the writing take place some time in the future?  No explanation is given, perhaps because no explanation is possible.

I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who worries about stuff like this.

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4 thoughts on “First person, third person

  1. I think three or four of the Reacher novels are in first person. I always find it a little jarring at the beginning, because I think of Reacher in third person. My guess is that Lee Child does it for variety, and to keep from becoming bored by his formula. (Though the last couple of books make me think he might do well to take some time off and write something else for a while.)

    I always feel as though there are probably lessons to be learned if one were to study the differences in the writing when Child goes from third to first person and back. But then eventually I get into the story and forget about it.

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  2. Pingback: No! Not an unreliable narrator! | Richard Bowker

  3. Pingback: Percy Sledge may be dead, but his song will never die | Richard Bowker

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