Writers should be reading all the time in our opinion, for pleasure, for education, for escapism and everything in between. But there are always going to be a handful of books that offer writers incredible insight into the world of writing itself. We’ve picked three of our favourites, have you read them?
1. In A Strange Room – Damon Galgut
For its structure and clever unreliable narration. The novel captures three journeys that a South African man, Damon embarks upon. These journeys to Greece, India and Africa are split into three parts according to what role Damon plays: The Follower, The Lover and The Guardian, with each part changing his life. Another example of rule-breaking, Galgut has cleverly chosen to switch between both first person and third person:
He becomes aware of another figure far away. It could be male or female, it could be any age, it could be travelling in either direction, towards him or away… Now they are watching each other, while pretending they are not… When the draw even they stop. The figure is a man about his own age, dressed entirely in black… What the first man is wearing I don’t know, I forget.”
Galgut suddenly places the narrator as the first man by switching the point of view. Not only this, but this main character then introduces himself as Damon, adding another layer of intrigue to the text. There is Damon Galgut the author, writing the story of a present character, Damon who is narrating the story of a past Damon… As convoluted as it sounds, Galgut manages to pull it off, leaving the reader in awe of his character-driven ideas of inception, as well as his poignant questions regarding human memory.
2. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
If you haven’t read this one, it’s a must. The novel follows a father and his young son as they journey to the coast across a horrific, post-apocalyptic United States. As poignant, beautiful and compassionate as The Road is, we suggest it to you for its rule-breaking.
With its paragraph-long sentences and lack of quotation marks, McCarthy knows all the rules and shatters them, pulling the whole thing off masterfully. This work is the perfect example of a writer who knows the craft and makes it his own. Why does it work? McCarthy breaks down the conventional rules of writing so that his stylistic and grammatical choices reflect the very essence of the novel. The lack of quotation marks takes down an inorganic barrier between the reader and the characters – we don’t have the author saying ‘This is dialogue now.’ Instead, the dialogue is presented naturally, and doesn’t pull us away from the story, we absorb it as though we are standing right in the middle of it all.
Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.
You forget some things, don’t you?
Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.”
This novel is also a beautiful example of an author’s control over language. Certainly minimalist in his style, McCarthy proves that less is more.
No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
3. The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
We’ve suggested this book for its unique point of view; told in first person, plural. Written from the perspective of a group of anonymous boys from the same neighbourhood, the novel revolves around the suicides of the five Lisbon sisters. The boy or boys who narrate it are outsiders who speculate the reasoning behind each of the sisters’ deaths, over the course of two decades.
We knew that Cecilia had killed herself because she was a misfit, because the beyond called to her, and we knew that her sisters, once abandoned, felt her calling from that place, too.”
Infatuated with the sisters, the unknown outsiders rely on interviews, overheard snippets and the declining state of the Lisbon house. As a result, the reader feels like they too, are part of the outsider gang, and the intrigue as to what exactly happened inside the Lisbon house builds and builds: “In the end we had the pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained, oddly shaped emptinesses mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn’t name.”
This unreliable form of narration succeeds wonderfully in creating an obsession within the reader, and makes an ideal study for a unique point of view, one that every writer should read.
What these three books have in common is the fact that they break traditional narrative and grammatical conventions to mirror the core concepts of each story. Each of these novels can teach a writer something new about the craft of writing, prompt them to experiment with their own style and encourage them to present their narrative ideas in a new way. Not to mention the fact that The Virgin Suicides, The Road and In a Strange Room are all phenomenal, standalone reads.