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February 5, 2014 11:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm seeking examples of books/stories where the writer does a good job of switching back and forth between two or more first-person narrators. Can it be done?

Not looking for multiple narrators in series--the point is the switching back and forth throughout the work.
posted by elizeh to Writing & Language (48 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Gone Girl
Let the Great World Spin
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:41 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Corelli's Mandolin.
posted by entropone at 11:45 AM on February 5, 2014

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
posted by Carillon at 11:45 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sexing the Cherry and The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
posted by Lemmy Caution at 11:47 AM on February 5, 2014

Jodi Picoult has used multiple narrators in some of her books. She talks about it here.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:47 AM on February 5, 2014

I second Gone Girl and Let the Great World Spin, particularly the latter.

Cloud Atlas
A Visit from the Goon Squad
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I'm not 100% sure that all of these are first-person narrators, but it's definitely single perspective. Gone Girl, I think, is two first-person narrators.
posted by gladly at 11:47 AM on February 5, 2014

I thought "The Time Traveler's Wife" did it well.
posted by oh yeah! at 11:47 AM on February 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

Douglas Coupland does this a lot. Generation X, Generation A and Player One spring to mind straight off.
posted by peteyjlawson at 11:48 AM on February 5, 2014

Lots of older epistolary novels do this very well-- Samuel Richardson's indescribably awesome Clarissa is a good example.
posted by Bardolph at 11:50 AM on February 5, 2014

Laura Wright does this very well in First Ink and Shattered Ink.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:54 AM on February 5, 2014

Heinlein's "Podkayne of Mars" switches between Podkayne and her younger brother. (The book is her diary, and he keeps breaking into it and adding comments.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:56 AM on February 5, 2014

Sister Of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni does a good job of this.
posted by katie at 11:58 AM on February 5, 2014

The Babysitter's Club Super Specials!
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:59 AM on February 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
Barbara Kingsolver - The Poisonwood Bible
posted by dr. boludo at 12:00 PM on February 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Illuminatus! by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson does this extensively, though I'm not sure how useful it would be to read as a study of first-person switching as it's intentionally confusing in a way. I still recommend the book though.
posted by cmoj at 12:07 PM on February 5, 2014

This one was co-written with the male author writing the male character's sections and vice versa.

And seconding The Time Traveller's Wife hard.
posted by the latin mouse at 12:13 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

C.J. Cherryh does this in Cyteen. Elizabeth Bear does this a lot too.
posted by kalessin at 12:17 PM on February 5, 2014

Seconding The Poisonwood Bible. Very different voices for (if memory serves) four separate narrators.
posted by ToucanDoug at 12:22 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just finished Soon I will be Invincible which is a great book and it has alternating chapters by the supervillain character and one of the superhero characters and it's quite good.
posted by jessamyn at 12:23 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Eric Jerome Dickey does this a lot, most notably in Sister, Sister. Each story is told from a first person point of view.

I just like him anyway.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:25 PM on February 5, 2014

The Number of the Beast is a series of diary entries by each of the four main characters: Zebadiah John Carter, programmer Dejah Thoris "Deety" Burroughs Carter, her mathematics professor father Jacob Burroughs, and an off-campus socialite Hilda Corners.
posted by Mitheral at 12:27 PM on February 5, 2014

Ray Banks does this in some of his Cal Innes detective novels, notably the first, Saturday's Child, and the last, Beast of Burden.
posted by dortmunder at 12:39 PM on February 5, 2014

Wuthering Heights.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:48 PM on February 5, 2014

Ghostwritten, by David Mitchell (who also wrote Cloud Atlas, which is further up the list)

I'm SURE I know of others, in fact, there's one that I'm certain of, but the titles that keep coming to mind are successive linked stories (not unlike Ghostwritten) such as The Diviners. This is now driving me mad.
posted by janey47 at 12:50 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think Irvine Welsh does a great job of this, but he can be a bit to hack through just because of dialect.
posted by klangklangston at 1:01 PM on February 5, 2014

It's been a while since I read it, but I think Henry and Clara: A Novel used the alternating narrator device. It's a historical fiction about the couple who were seated next to Abraham & Mary Todd Lincoln at the theater on the night Lincoln was assassinated.
posted by oh yeah! at 1:07 PM on February 5, 2014

One more for The Poisonwood Bible. A miraculous (no pun intended) book.
posted by anya32 at 1:23 PM on February 5, 2014

Ken Kesey's novel Sometimes a Great Notion does this, multiple first person narrators switching without much signaling, aside from tone and context.
posted by bepe at 1:36 PM on February 5, 2014

posted by colin_l at 1:49 PM on February 5, 2014

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
posted by cheerwine at 2:02 PM on February 5, 2014

Tom Perrotta - Election
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 2:25 PM on February 5, 2014

David Levithan and his various collaborators seem to be the current leaders of this format in YA lit. I liked Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist okay and loved Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:38 PM on February 5, 2014

Came in to suggest Sometimes a Great Notion, but I see bepe beat me to it. It's impressive - Kesey does the transitions gradually! Also he jumps around in time and place and manages to keep the story comprehensible.
posted by aka burlap at 2:55 PM on February 5, 2014

Although Cold Mountain is typically described as the story of a confederate soldier's journey home, every other chapter is told from his wife's point of view. (Note: I don't recall whether or not it's first person.)
posted by she's not there at 4:00 PM on February 5, 2014

I found One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding to be hilarious and pretty clever narrative-wise.
posted by Rykey at 4:02 PM on February 5, 2014

Charlie Huston's Sleepless.
posted by fuse theorem at 4:16 PM on February 5, 2014

I just finished Wonder and it did this remarkably well.
posted by Twicketface at 4:38 PM on February 5, 2014

I feel as though Trainspotting was good for this.
posted by LynnDee at 5:47 PM on February 5, 2014

Through Black Spruce, by Joseph Boyden. It's one of my favourite books.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:12 PM on February 5, 2014

Sleeping Dog by Dick Lochte.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 7:18 PM on February 5, 2014

The Savage Detectives, besides being, in my opinion, one of the most well crafted novels ever written, contains dozens of narrators, some of whom recur, and then wraps up with the original narrator in a long, weird, somewhat experimental third act.
posted by latkes at 7:30 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis does this very well. It's one of my favorite books.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:31 PM on February 5, 2014

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn is written as a set of letters from various people.
posted by divabat at 10:07 PM on February 5, 2014

William Vollman's "You Bright and Risen Angels" does this--sometimes in the middle of a sentence!
posted by Life at Boulton Wynfevers at 5:23 AM on February 6, 2014

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
posted by lollymccatburglar at 5:52 AM on February 6, 2014

The Sound and the Fury does this. If I recall correctly, it's three first-person sections and one third-person limited omniscient.
posted by johnofjack at 7:51 AM on February 6, 2014

I think I would count Hubert Selby Jr's Requiem for a Dream, which switches so seamlessly between a third and various first party narrators that he doesn't even use traditional signifiers such as quotation marks to indicate who's saying what. Makes for a confusingly slow start, but it works really well once you get into it.
posted by KatlaDragon at 10:43 AM on February 6, 2014

Talking It Over by Julian Barnes does this well - each of the voices trying to show the other up as an unreliable narrator. An enjoyable read.
posted by indienial at 5:25 PM on February 8, 2014

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