Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Eight novels with narrators who defy our expectations

Nathan Go's new novel is Forgiving Imelda Marcos.

He was born and raised in the southern Philippines. He was the 2017–2018 David T. K. Wong Fellow at the University of East Anglia. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Zell Writers’ Program, he was a 2012 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow. He has received scholarships to attend Tin House, Sozopol Fiction Seminars, Sewanee, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, among others. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, American Short Fiction, Ninth Letter, The Massachusetts Review, The Bare Life Review, and the Des Moines Register. He is a senior lecturer at the University of the Philippines, Mindanao.

At Electric Lit Go tagged eight novels with "narrators that defy our expectations of how they 'should sound' given their societal, racial or other preconceived backgrounds." One title on the list:
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The narrator Balram Halwai writes a series of letters to the Premier of China on the official’s visit to Bangalore, opening the address with “Sir, neither you nor I speak English.” Like my novel, Halwai used to be a driver, and comes from a lower class family. We are told that he didn’t finish elementary, though he excelled while he was in school. The language is a mix of low and high registers, humor and pathos – the combination of which propels the narrative forward, even if some might question the believability of a narrator like Halwai essentially writing a book-length succession of letters in just seven days.

In these two examples, over-the-top humor can easily justify quirky narrators. At the very least, it can redirect readers away from policing “realistic narrators,” since realism is obviously not the point. Maximalist writing also achieves the same effect, as in the following novels:
Read about another entry on the list.

The White Tiger is on Saskia Lacey's list of fifty incredible literary works destined to become classics, Louise Doughty's six best books list, Amy Wilkinson's list of seven top books with "white" in the title, Julia Stuart's list of five of the best stories about domestic servantsStephen Kelman's top ten list of outsiders' stories, and is one of The Freakonomics guys' six best books.

The Page 69 Test: The White Tiger.

--Marshal Zeringue