The naive narrator.

I picked up Kit de Waal’s Six Foot Six while I was waiting to pick up Ray, because I’d given him a lift to work and although it was time to go home, he was still talking to students. There were no magazines in the lobby, not even tatty ones. But amongst the donated books by the coffee table was a slim paperback from The Reading Agency.

I’d heard about this project to encourage new readers. Penguin commission well-known writers from a variety of genres to produce short texts. My literary head whispered, novella, but I knew publishers don’t like to use that term, so I shushed it.

Inside, the font size was larger than I usually buy. I liked the look of it. There was no knowing how long I’d be waiting, and by skim-reading I might finish it. If not, a few pages would give me a flavour of Kit de Waal, who I’d not read before, and an idea about how Quick Reads work.

I told myself it was professional interest. I like to believe I’m efficient, and put my time to good use. Much better to claim professional curiosity than admit I’m forever losing myself in imaginary worlds.

Besides, I wasn’t intrigued by the cover. The blurb said a young adult would get involved with a desperate builder, and have to ‘collect money from thugs‘ which didn’t sound promising. It was not something I expected to invested emotion or imagination with.

I liked the opening paragraph though, which ticked four of the orientation boxes for creative writers: who, where, when and why – while raising all sorts of sub-questions at the same time.

Timothy Flowers stands at the corner of Gas Street and Yew Tree Lane. It’s the third of November and it’s Friday and it’s fifteen minutes past eleven o’clock in the morning. In a few minutes, Timothy will see the number forty-five bus. It will be the new Enviro 400 City Bus with the back-to-front design. It’s electric. You can get the internet on the new Enviro 400.

The precision of this information, and the detail about the bus was intriguing. Although it’s third person narration, by the end of the paragraph I knew it was focused through Timothy’s consciousness, and that he thought in short, simple sentences.

The second paragraph confirmed that syntax: ‘Timothy has seen the new bus before. Once.’ Using third person narration allowed de Waal to control the content, and include some background information. It was, we are told, Timothy’s twenty-first birthday, and he was as excited by that as about seeing ‘the new Enviro 400 City Bus‘ go past.

This repetition of the bus type could, I first supposed, mean Timothy was the road equivalent of a train-spotter. Then I thought not.

I realised I’ve seen him on the corner of a road I take to work, watching the traffic pass. It’s a busy road, and I’ve wondered about him, and worried about his vulnerability.

When Timothy was accosted, at the bottom of the first page, with an, ‘Oi, mate!‘ I worried for him, too. Timothy’s mum, the narrator told me, ‘…says that sometimes, when his brain hasn’t had enough rest, Timothy gets confused, so she makes sure he goes to bed by nine o’clock.’

A man in the basement of a derelict house across the road kept calling to Timothy, who knew he should ‘never ever talk to strangers.‘ I worried. The man kept intruding. ‘As well as shouting, the man is pointing at Timothy and waving. ‘Yes, you!’ he says. ‘You! The Longfella! Here, down here.

When Ray came out of the office Timothy had crossed the road to talk to the man, and I couldn’t leave them like that. I bought the book.

Naive narration is a tricky voice to maintain. It’s easy to unintentionally slip in explanations, or anomalous vocabulary.

There is a deceptive simplicity about this short novel/long story. The events of Timothy’s birthday are logical and straightforward: each triggers the next.

However, because Timothy’s understanding is limited to what, where and when, it was me who supplied the how and why aspects of the situations, and all to often, I later had to admit, I miss-judged them. This was one of those reading experiences where not only had the protagonist experienced a change through the course of the story, by the time I turned over the last page, I too had learned something new and important about Timothy’s world.

20 thoughts on “The naive narrator.

  1. Ha! Interesting to see that you’d integrated ‘who-what-when-where’ into your opening sentence, and even a ‘why’ (and a ‘how’?): “I picked up Kit de Waal’s Six Foot Six while I was waiting to pick up Ray, because I’d given him a lift to work and although it was time to go home, he was still talking to students…” Often narrative doesn’t need to be overtly complex to have sterling literary qualities. (And that applies equally to reviews/commentaries!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • And sometimes we do all that instinctively, or was it accidentally? Well noted, Chris. I’d not even thought about that connection until you pointed it out. It seems I may, after all, practice what I preach.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. An interesting analysis of the naive narrator, Cath. I just finished a fantasy book The Queen’s Poisoner where the protagonist is eight. I was thinking about what I found so compelling about the read, and here you go, describing it perfectly. The language and perspective were appropriate to the eight-year-old who gave me the “what, where, when,” but I as the adult reader worried about the “how and why.” Plus the concern for the kid who didn’t have the experience of age to manage the situation. Great post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love it when you just ‘happen’ on a book. Here in our village we have a book box where you can leave books for others to take and, conversely take any that capture your interest. I’ve just come across Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal in English thank goodness which had me enthralled enough to read in one sitting. I hadn’t heard of The Reading Agency but what a great idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Devouring a book in one sitting is a very good recommendation, I’ll have to look out for The Rehearsal. Recommendations are my other favourite way to find good reads.

      Yes, The Reading Agency do an excellent job producing books that come in a manageable format for returning, or beginning readers. They’ve got an excellent web page, and promote reading in all sorts of interesting ways.


    • Yes, and no matter how often I make a great discovery it’s always joyful. You’d think after it’s happened so many times I’d get blase, but no, every new discovery seems to work the same way. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed your article particularly since it remided me of myself a few years ago. I found Michel Strogoff (written by Jules Verne) on a tiny, squeezing table somewhere far from the madding crowd behind a little bookshop. It is’nt quite brilliant or outstandingly important but a witness of it’s time, a valuable novel I instantly liked and read within a few hours.

    Thank you for following

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting intro to what sounds an intriguing book. Not unlike ‘Curious Case of the Dog etc.’, perhaps? Also I remember a short story, later lengthened into a novel I think, called ‘Flowers For Algernon’ which had a naïve narrator.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, very intriguing, and you’re right, it does something very similar to ‘The Curious Incident…’ in that it offers the reader insight into a character who takes a ‘different’ view of life to the usual approaches. I’ve never read Flowers for Algernon, but now that you mention it, I remember hearing a recommendation years ago. I must look into it. Thanks for that reminder.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Congratulations on the new arrival Shey.
      I empathise re- ‘the reader’, I had a similar problem for a while last year. I still don’t know what happened, or why, after about two weeks, it suddenly began to work again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well it is working but then after not that many posts, it is white screen, OR it won’t let me like anything. I switch to chrome which takes a bit to load on my PC and usually loads with no white screen but of late it hasn’t. Tell you– eventually you just lose the will to live over it in some ways!!!! But if you had probs last year it must glitches that get into the system every so often.

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