By January 9, 2008 3 Comments Read More →

The Royal We

Recently, I have started to notice and appreciate a new kind of narrator, one I will call “the royal we.” By this I mean novels narrated by a group. Nancy Pearl made note of this in More Book Lust in her section on “Voice.” A couple of notable examples of this are Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End.

The royal we is a narration technique that is particularly hard to pull off. When I read The Virgin Suicides, I remember feeling beguiled by the narrators and by their fervent adoration of the ill-fated Lisbon sisters. I was drawn into the voice, intrigued by its possibilities and its limitations (because perspective is always a limitation—we can only see things the way we see them or as a reader, how they are presented to us). I thought, how did he do that?

I am just finishing up Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End, a book that has turned up on a lot of best of 2007 lists. The narration is so simple, yet provocative, so inspired and winning. It’s a perfect book for discussion.

Now, I want to hear if there are other novels with group narrators or with innovative narration that I need to try!

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

3 Comments on "The Royal We"

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  1. Brad Hooper says:

    Alice Munro will occasionally switch from first-person narrator to the “royal we,” for a brief time, and for her it works wonderfully to impart to the reader the collective community opinion about a certain person or event.

  2. Donna Seaman says:

    Andrea Barrett used the “we” voice to curious affect in The Air We Breathe. The narrators are sequestered in a TB sanitorium, so the chorus mode expresses their togetherness and their isolation.

  3. dwright333@yahoo.com' Guybrarian says:

    That great, tragically split narration of book group classic “House of Sand and Fog” springs to mind. One of my own favorites is Oscar Caseres’ “Brownsville,” stories depicting the collective life of the town in brown America, and just the kind of clear-eyed writing that I’m a sucker for, though I’m not sure what kind of discussion it would invite.

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