So to another piece of first person perspective. First person stories have particular challenges, and there is a kind of continuum that falls from the absolute purist first person, where what you get is exactly what the narrator would say or write, down to something that is basically a story like any other, with precious little concession to the fact that someone is supposed to be telling it. Gene Wolfe, the master of first person narrative, usually presents his as written accounts, which is the more natural way for someone to present any serious volume of circumstance – but then Mr W also plays all manner of games with his readership, by using the absolute purist end of the scale to insert all sorts of irregularities, often pushing the unreliable narrator to the limit. After all, you are at the mercy of the veracity, memory and intentions of the narrator, with the first person, and I don’t know any other writer who exploits this as much as Wolfe does.
Peter S. Beagle, another favourite of mine, has also pushed the boundaries of first person narrative, notably with his Innkeeper’s Song. His preferred style is to present the narrator as raconteur, telling the story in (one imagines) some tavern somewhere. The difficulty with a spoken narrative is that there are relatively few circumstances where someone gets to talk, uninterrupted, for so very long, and Beagle deals with this by having his stories interspersed with asides and comments as the speaker reacts to his notional audience and keeps it engaged. Indeed, many of Beagle’s stories that could just as easily be third person gain an extra level of detail when presented as tales being retold in the first person.
So, where do I fall? Well, I’m still making headway in first person, so I suppose you’re the jury as to whether I’ve hit the mark or not. In The Dreams of Avaris, the teller is plainly sitting around a campfire telling a ghost story to put the wind up his companions, whereas Queen of the Night has the narrator, some time after, giving a kind of half-casual, half-serious retelling of events that have presumably become local legend in the Collegium theatrical circuit. He’s likely a little drunk, too.
For Camouflage it’s trickier. There’s a lot of frank confession for an imperial officer in there. I can only assume that our lieutenant is telling the story at a considerable remove of both time and distance, somewhere with trusted friends, after the end of the war and far away from any sniff of the Empire. Imagine him relaxing somewhere sunny around the Exalsee(1), grown fat on war profiteering, trading stories with similar nouveau riche types.
The story, after all that, is here.
(1) Around the whatnow? See Blood of the Mantis
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