Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Narrative Voice

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Narrative voice is such an odd and powerful thing. What I mean here is not ‘voice’ in the sense that I wrote about last week, i.e. point of view, the choice of first person narrator vs third person narration etc. What I’m referring to is something more intangible – the ‘voice’ of the author and how that comes through in a text, via the rhythm of the prose, the use of language. I think narrative voice is partially directed by an author’s chosen style and tone, but I also think there are elements of it that are beyond the writer’s control; narrative voice emanates from the writer’s very body – the way they breath, the way they sit or stand, the whole of their life up to that point.

I’m reading Kathleen Winter’s novel ‘Annabel’(House of Anansi), and the narrative voice in this book is very strong, cadenced and incantatory. Winter’s narrative voice reminds me of a couple of other writers – Alistair MacLeod, Cormac McCarthy, and William Goyen, all writers whose work conveys a very strong sense of place. Goyen is a nearly-forgotten writer from the swamps and bayous of East Texas (1915-1983), and his writing has gripped me since I first came across it in the ‘eighties. His short story, ‘Precious Door’, from ‘Had I One Hundred Mouths’, is one of the most perfect, most moving short stories I’ve ever read. His final novel, ‘Arcadio’, which was published a few months after he died, is, like ‘Annabel’, about an hermaphrodite, and it is a work of startling beauty and originality. You can find his books in libraries and second-hand online; his narrative voice is truly distinctive, mixing up those swamps with a kind of weird pagan Christianity through sharp, hallucinogenic, incantatory prose.

You can read more about Goyen on his Wikipedia page.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Kate Pullinger

Kate Pullinger writes for both print and digital platforms. In 2009 her novel The Mistress of Nothing won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction. Her prize-winning digital fiction projects, Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths: A Networked Novel, have reached audiences around the world.

Go to Kate Pullinger’s Author Page