Tuesday 13 September 2011
Writing from a child's viewpoint
This blog started out as a place for my thoughts about writing and books, and immediately fell off the rails and became a general ramble. Time, then, for a book-related post.
By one of those odd coincidences, I have recently read three novels in which at least part is written from a small child's POV, and in the first person. The first was Emma Donoghue's Room; an immensely successful novel, which has won many plaudits. For me, however, it didn't quite work. The child is just five, and yet much of the vocabulary he uses is way beyond that of even the brightest five-year-old. This spoilt the novel for me, although many wouldn't agree. I also found the names for household objects (Chair, Table, Bed etc)used without the definite article contrived and irritating.
The second book was Nell Leyshon's Devotion; a brilliant if slight (in length) novel about the break-down of a family, told in four first-person voices; the mother, father, and teenage and six-year-old daughters. Leyshon's novel doesn't seem to be doing especially well commercially (I happened upon it in the library) and this is a great shame, because I think she really does manage (as much as is possible) to get inside the heads of the two children, and the book is altogether a wonderful if tragic read; I really recommend it.
The third novel is Chrsitopher Wakling's What I Did; like The Slap, the story of the aftermath of the public smacking of a child, and told from the point of view of the six-year-old involved. This one I find particularly irritating (I'm only half-way through). The "thoughts" of the little boy seem to me contrived and unlikely, esepcially (again) in the vocabulary he uses. For example, would a child of this age really use the word "extraordinarily", and then "air looms" for "heirlooms"? It borders on the cute/twee, and for me, it doesn't work. This is a shame, because the story is an absorbing one, but several times I have been sorely tempted to give up on it because of the style. The actual story could have been told in the third person, and I don't think it would lose any of its impact.
In conclusion, I think from now on I will avoid novels told in this way. It can work - just - but it's very, very difficult to pull off. After all, how many of us can remember our thought processes at the age of six? We may remember what happened and how we felt, but that's a different thing altogether.