Wednesday 19 October 2011

First-Person Bookers

On last night's BBC News, our old friend Will Gompertz - ever the dangerous outsider, a man living on the edge, playing by his own rules - reported from the black-tie Booker Prize dinner in his trademark open-to-the-chest shirt and jeans (let's hope he'd been thrown out and was standing in the street). He brought us the shock news (hem hem) that Julian Barnes had won, at the fourth attempt, with The Sense of an Ending, a work described by the chair of the judges, Dame Stella Rimington, as 'a beautifully written book that speaks to humankind in the 21st century'. Martin Amis was unavailable for comment... Our Will delivered his usual string of consensual banalities, and played us a dispiriting clip of Barnes reading from his masterwork - but Gompertz's report included one interesting tidbit: all six of this year's Booker finalists were written in the first person. Why is it that today's novelists are so helplessly attracted to the first-person mode? Is it that they daren't risk the distancing effect (however slight) of the third person? Do they believe it is more 'vivid'? Is it a publisher's fad? Or is it just that, for a writer of limited imaginative powers, the first person is just, well, easier?


  1. Yes it does seem to be a trend these days - along with writing in present tense. I think it's supposed to make everything more immediate for the reader!
    I'm rather in favour of the good old Victorian omniscient voice, with the odd essay on Morality thrown in between the action and a long dissertation on landscape and methods of farming. Perhaps that will become the new trend when everyone is bored with this.
    But if the writing is luminous and the first person used with discernment and skill - then I'm happy with it, despite trends. It can work beautifully.

  2. Hear, hear - a return to omniscience and mini-lectures would be most refreshing (in the right hands)!
    First person is certainly preferable to present tense - and 'he'/'she' instead of names - ugh...

  3. You could write an illuminated manuscript, if it ain't your turn, you ain't getting it, like the Hollywood lifetime achievement award, firstly you have to wait in line, the grim reapers, nearly your turn.....

  4. Oooo! Hark at you.....Or should I say me?

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