Today on the blog I am excited to welcome Sharon Gosling, author of the latest chilling book in the Red Eye series, Fir. She’s talking about ambiguous characters, something I found really interesting and different in her book.
So without further ado, welcome Sharon!
What’s in a Name?
I’ve always been fascinated by ambiguous characters in literature, especially when it comes to narrators. Reading a book as told by one character requires trust, doesn’t it? The reader knows nothing at all about the person telling the story – the first time we’ve ever meet them is when we turn to the first page of that book. So who’s to say that what they choose to tell us is the absolute truth? Even if they’re trying to tell us the truth, can they? A first-person perspective can’t but be subjective, can it? It’s not even necessarily that the narrator is deliberately setting out to lie to the reader. But we all know how the same events can seem vastly different when seen from a different perspective. One of my favourite episodes of The X Files is ‘Bad Blood’, in which we see the same events twice, from Scully’s point of view and also from Mulder’s. They’re seeing the same things, but the way they experience them is so completely different, not through an attempt at subterfuge, but just because their own personalities and expectations make them see things differently.
That goes for readers too, of course. One person’s response to a book can be vastly different to another’s for exactly the same reason – we all see things from a different angle, there are always different moments that strike us as significant or themes that stand out to one person that may not even occur to another.
One of my favourite poems is Dialogue, by Adrienne Rich. The first time I read it, it was as part of a lecture about the role an author plays in the way a reader experiences a text. Is it necessary to know anything about the author, or is the author a surplus component once the text is written? I first read the poem without knowing who the writer was. Finding out that the writer was a woman and not a man as I had originally assumed not only made me think differently about the poem itself, but it also made me question my approach and how my own assumptions and preconceptions had altered my understanding of the text.
When I set out to write FIR, I thought it would be interesting to do something that might similarly challenge the reader. I decided to write the book from a first-person perspective, but never stipulate either a name or a gender for the narrator. The absence plays with larger themes of identity – if we don’t have a name, what permanence do we have in the world? If there comes a time when no one remembers our name, how would anyone know we had ever existed? – but it also makes the reader think about why they choose to think of the narrator as either female or male. What is it about the character’s actions and personality that leads the reader towards one or the other? Is it more about the reader’s perspective than it is about the character as written? It’s been interesting to talk to people who have read the book about whether they think the narrator is a boy or a girl. There seems to be a pretty equal split between readers who experience the narrator as female and those who think of the narrator as male. When I ask the reader why they’ve made their decision, though, most don’t seem to be absolutely sure as to the reason. Some point out that the narrator is a skateboarder and listens death metal, which they think of as being more of a boy’s interests than a girl’s, but then with more thought – often unprompted – the same readers observe that they also know girls who share those interests. Others who think of the reader as a girl cite the narrator’s relationship with the mother in the story. Others who are friends of mine say they think of it as a girl because they know me, they know I wrote it and they know I’m female, and without something to definitively tell them otherwise they think of me as they are reading.
So how do I, as the writer, think of the narrator? Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?
Thanks so much to Sharon for being on my blog today.
Check out my review of Fir here.
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