RARA-AVIS: Re: The undependable narrator / 1st person POV

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 18 Aug 2006


Re your comments below:

"There should be a distinction between an outright lie and an obfuscation. In his Burglar books, Larry Block will have his narrator, Bernie, say something like: 'I ran a few errands and ...' with the errands being crucial to the denouement. I think quite a few, if not most, first person private eye narrations indulge in that particular form of holding back key bits of exposition. Otherwise, the professional sleuth would have to arrive at the solution no sooner than the non-pro reader. The Op, for example, has to know the real villain behind the Dain Curse before he or she is exposed, but Hammett would clearly prefer the reader be kept in the dark as long as possible. My feeling is that the fair play in these instances would be in providing the reader with enough clues to arrive at the right answer regardless of the endability or openness of the narrator."

Good points. An even better example, and one that was quite controversial in its day (though it's certainly not hard-boiled), is Agatha Christie's THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD.

The narrator, Poirot's new "Watson" with the departure of Capt. Hastings, deliberately witholds fairly crucial info, but, at the same time, carefully plants all the clues necessary for the reader to figure out what's going on.

In the context of a mystery in which the puzzle/whodunit element is crucial to the plot, this seems permissable to me.


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