Reading "The Poet," by Michael Connelly

I am reading “The Poet,” a murder mystery by Michael Connelly, and I notice the author does a thing that I usually find annoying, but I do not find it so in this novel.

About two-thirds of the novel is told in first person. The main character is telling the story, and he says “I did this” and “I did that.”

But the main character’s chapters are interwoven with chapters from the point-of-view of another character, and those chapters are written in third person. “He did this” and “he did that.”

Usually I find that kind of thing distracting. I want a narrator to pick a point-of-view and stick with it. If you’re going to go with first person, stick with that for the whole novel—and that means the reader is only going to be inside the head of that one character.1

I think the point-of-view switch maybe works for me because the main character, the one who tells the story, is a newspaper reporter and he writes in a journalistic style. Often, in a first-person-novel, the main character seems to be speaking intimately with the reader, but the main character of this novel is writing for a mass audience.

Some years ago, I came across an online discussion on a Stephen King fan forum, about his novel, “Dolores Claiborne.” The fans thought the novel was a huge departure for King, and they didn’t like it. They said he was pandering to the critics and putting on literary airs.

That surprised me, because I liked the novel just fine. And it seemed very much of a piece with King’s other work: A horror story, set in rural Maine, with working-class main characters who lacked formal education but who were wise, intelligent, and spoke beautifully in regional, working-class language.

But the fans who hated it noted it was much shorter than King’s other books, had almost no supernatural element–and was written in the first person, whereas King’s other novels were written in third person, with multiple point-of-view characters. To them, these differences were huge–and they didn’t like them–but to me, the differences were nearly incidental.

  1. Unless it’s a fantastic fiction novel, and the character can read minds. Or the character finds and reads a document written by someone else, like a journal that was bricked up in the fireplace mantel of an old manor house or something. ↩︎

Mitch W @MitchW