Do you sometimes read a book and feel it's only been written for you? A book so uniquely shaped to your situation you have to doubt your atheist attitude and can only feel a greater being sent it your way to help you cope?
Or maybe you just enjoy a really good roll with your books and seemingly everything you pick up is great literature? Recently, I have felt that way. In the past weeks I have read so many incredible great books that varied in narration, content and quirkiness that I cannot help feeling I am jinxing it by writing about it - the next drought will certainly come.
If you are amidst a reading drought at the moment, maybe reading through this list can help you get back on track. For this list I am considering books that have a unique way of telling a story and bend the rules of narration, which I always love for no one should writers tell they can or cannot do this or that - it's your book and you can do whatever you want!
So let's get into it.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Yes, I know I am late to the party but I only recently bowed to social pressure and finally read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Although I am usually not a fan of Holocaust fiction, I must say I really enjoyed reading the book. Not only because of its in-depth characters and how Zusak sheds light on how German citizens experienced the Second World War, but predominantly because of its unique narration.
The book is narrated by Death itself and he doesn't mind jumping back and forth, spoiling the plot in advance for the reader (and knowing about it), and inserting little facts and thoughts in embellished boxes. I love when authors just narrate their stories without worrying too much what is considered "normal narration". I loved how Zusak gave Death a gentle voice and made the tragic topic invariably sadder, but also more hopeful, somehow. One of my most favourite parts is the beginning was where it says,
First the colours.
Then the humans.
That's usually how I see things.
Or at least, how I try.
HERE IS A SMALL FACT
You are going to die.
Especially if you want to complete the bleakness of the winter months, this book is a great choice - and don't cheat and watch the movie before you read the book.
A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
Matt Haig generally has a unique way of storytelling and I can recommended all of his books that I have read - both for children and adults. This book is a bit out of season, but if you're looking for a Christmas spirit all year round it is the perfect choice.
The book circles around the little boy Nikolas who travels up to the North Pole to find his father and stumbles upon a Christmas village full of elves and adventures.
What makes the narration of this book so great is the fantastic sense of humour and interception Haig allows himself in between. Haig spikes the story with fun narrations in between like,
If you keep on climbing a mountain you will eventually reach the top. That's the thing with mountains. However big they are, there is always a top (...). Well, unless the mountain is in the Himalayas, in which case the mountain just keeps on going and even though you know you know there is a top you freeze to death and all your toes fall off before you get there. But this wasn't that big a mountain. And Nikolas's toes didn't fall off.
Another great example of his humorous narration is,
It took a second. No. Two seconds. Maybe three. Three and a half. Actually, no. Just three. But then Nikolas realised what she had just said.
And if you enjoyed that, I'll let you read the rest before I quote the entire book. This fantastic narration style is also true for the second book, The Girl Who Saved Christmas.
The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale
If you want to read a full book review of this masterpiece you can do so here. This book turned out to be one of my favourite discoveries of the past year. I bought it in Uppsala on my honeymoon and it amazes with its tragic plot, time jumps and incredible narration where Dinsdale regularly changes perspective without further ado and introduces a more open view on story-telling. Dinsdale kicks off the story by giving an introductory, omniscient-narrator chapter on the Emporium and how it opens with the first frost of winter. His narration regularly jumps from bird-view to delving right in and talking directly to the reader, for example:
If, at a certain hour on a certain winter night, you too had been wandering the warren between New Bond Street and Avery Row, you might have seen it for yourself. (...) Lights like these can bewitch the most cynical of souls.
Watch out, because here one such soul comes, hurrying out of the night.
We are introduced into the world through the gaze of a random passer-by, which allows the author to give detailed descriptions without being too expositional. Almost like in a movie, the author directs the reader's perspective, for example like here:
It would be easy to get lost in a place like this, but the man we are following knows the way. Alone among the shoppers, he does not gawk at the displays - and nor must we. There will be time for lingering later. For now, do not let yourself get distracted by the bears whose eyes follow you from every shelf (...). Keep your eyes on the man in front, for he is almost at his destination. Come closer now, that we might listen.
This engaging narration style is intriguing and makes it easier to step into the story. And this is just the first chapter. Later on, we are introduced to various characters and Dinsdale jumps between the perspectives lightly while also pressing through time. Starting in 1917, the plot covers more than three decades, recounting from the turmoils of two wars and interweaving magic and science into the mix. Though some may think it's a children's book from the cover and premise, it is actually quite scary and deep, perfect for a cosy night to snuggle up and read about love, family, betrayal and magic.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
On a list of unique novel narration techniques, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events cannot be thought away. His 13-book series circles around the unfortunate Baudelaire orphans whose lives are in peril after the evil Count Olaf wants to secure the children's extensive inheritance, left by their parents.
The narration style is unique in various ways. First of all, Lemony Snicket is not only the author, but also a character in the book - only a small one who does not even have an active appearance, but it is a story within a story, so to speak. The "real" author is called Daniel Handler and he invented Lemony Snicket to create a whole book concept.
Just from the outside, the reader knows this book has a different approach to narration. The blurb of the first book, The Bad Beginning, at the outside cover reads,
By its own narration, the author tries to dissuade you from reading the book, therefore spiking the reader's curiosity. What also makes for a quirky feature are the dedications given in the beginning of each book. Snicket dedicates each book to his love Beatrice, who clearly died. Again, Snicket and Beatrice's story is mentioned but they are not in any way main characters. One of the dedications reads
For Beatrice -
When we met, my life began.
Soon afterward, yours ended.
For Beatrice -
When we were together I felt breathless.
Now you are.
This tendency to the macabre fits the entire tone of the story and the narrator, by being part of the story, also regularly addresses the reader directly. Furthermore, the sinister and dissuading note is fused with humour to create a unique narration style, for example:
The Book you are holding in your two hands right now - assuming that you are, in fact, holding this book, and that you have only two hands - is one of two books in the world that will show you the difference between the word "nervous" and "anxious". The other book, of course, is the dictionary, and if I were you I would read that book instead.
This passage also highlights another feature of the narration employed, namely the proclivity to describe difficult words or add a special connection to words. Klaus Baudelaire, one of the orphans, is a very bookish child and the author picks up his tone and regularly lets in the reader on a definition or two.
The series has been made into a movie and TV show and counts to one of my most favourite books that have inspired by writing style in many ways. Snicket plays well with words, but he can also employ the absence of them, like in Book 6, the Ersatz Elevator, where he describes the darkness the Baudelaire orphans feel falling down an elevator shaft by inking two whole pages black.
The Afterwards by A.F. Harrold
This heartbreaking story about two little girls who are best friends and seek to overcome death has become one of my all-time favourites. It is not only a unique haunting and beautiful story, but it also displays a unique narration style, fusing visuals with the text. Equipped with beautiful artwork by Emily Gravett, the book is just a visual masterpiece to behold. The illustrations are spread over the pages and interact with the text and often the content is mirrored in how the text format behaves. For example, one chapter ends with the word "vanished" and the word slowly fades out, so it vanishes. Another time, the content is about a stomach lurch the character feels and the text goes in a spiral to mimic the feeling. These little extra detail make this book even more special and whisk us into the world of Ember and Ness, best friends separated by death.
The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Lastly, I want to include The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan on this list. The book was on my reading list for university and I can remember that I was annoyed when I picked it up and saw it was entirely written in a poetry format. "Why can't people just write normal?" I asked, but when I read it, I had to concede it turned out to be one of the best books I have ever read.
The book tells the story of Polish girl Kasienka who moves to England and has to adjust to the British life. At school she is teased, as she is "the wrong kind of white" and her mother cannot speak any English at all. The other girls are cruel to her and puberty also kicks in, just enough to make extra trouble.
The book is divided in short chapters that sometimes spread over a few pages, sometimes are only contained on one page - which is one thing I love about the narration style of this book. Usually, chapters are supposed to be almost equally long, but here the parts only take as long as they need to deal with their respective subheading.
As already mentioned, the book is written entirely in poetry format, but it doesn't rhyme. An example would be,
There is a bell,
A pealing chime to signal
When everyone moves.
We are ruled by its shrillness.
Like sleepwalkers we stand
When it clangs
And return to silence
At its command.
Teachers try to lead the processions;
'I will decide when the lesson ends', they insist.
But they cannot compete
With The Bell.
This excerpt is among the more poetic ones, but the text shows beautiful imagery to get the story across and it is also a quick and fluent read due to its fast pace and format. You may be deterred in the beginning like me, but it is really worth a read.
Obviously there are many more wonderful books with quirky narration styles, but for today this is all I can think of. Leave me a comment if you can think of a book that amazed you with its narration, I'd love to be inspired. You may also like my summer reading list post.
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