Dear Omniscient Narrator: It's not you, it's me!

Mary Anne Evans aka George Eliot
Apparently they made it into a movie ...
I finally summited the literary Mount Everest that is George Eliot's 900 page book Middlemarch. It's been on my to-be-read shelf for decades (bought in a used books store a few years after I graduated from my first university degree, when I must have declared that I was going to read all the classics). It has mocked me for years and I decided it was finally time to read it. 

Here's what I learned:

1. Grade five teacher - get out of my head: Okay, maybe it was grade six when I had a teacher who said you can't judge a book unless you read the whole thing. She was adamant. Even thought I stopped agreeing with that decades ago, it still must be lodged in my grey matter somewhere because I am loath to stop reading a book. I have the right to judge a book from the first sentence on. I can stop reading if it's not a genre that interests me or if I deem it to not be well written (totally subjective). I get that she was probably trying to get us to read all of our assigned readings. 

2. Omniscient narrator- we're through: It's not you, omniscient narrator, it's me. No, actually it's you. My head was spinning trying to keep up with who's pov the story was from. I have whiplash from the number of times the pov changed. Thankfully omniscient narration isn't trending. Love single or multiple pov books. 

3. I need a plot: You need a plot. We. All. Need. A. Plot! Donald Maass says if you want your book to be longer add more conflict, not description. I totally get that now. Yes, pages and pages of beautifully written description and character sketches, but I needed more of a plot (or less description). Now I get the appeal of plot driven books. Readers want something to happen. I like a balance between characters I care about and plot.   

4. Thank Buddha they invented editors: See #3. 

5. Don't give me a sub-plot if the characters and plot points aren't crucial to the ending: Don't make me care about characters that don't need to be in the novel. I also didn't connect with any of the characters on a deep level and I blame the omniscient narrator for that (it's always good to have a narrator to blame).  

6. I agree with Stephen King who said carry a book with you at all times. That was the only way I got through the 900 page book.

What I did like about it? It was hilarious in some parts, the insights were *cough* insightful, the issues of livelihood, money, status and love are universal, and it's good to know that politicians haven't changed. The historical perspective was interesting. The last two hundred pages rocked when the story kicked into high gear.  

What literary Mount Everest have you summited lately?   



Candy Gourlay said…
hilarious post ... so does that mean you won't be reviewing it on amazon?
Anne R. Allen said…
These are such wonderful insights! I read Middlemarch at a long ago and far away time when I had lots of free hours and no electronic devices to fill them.

But these days, I can't read anything with an omniscient POV unless the narrator is part of the story (like David Copperfield.)

I think sagas like Middlemarch and those huge 2-volume things like Little Dorrit have to be read like a mini-series, where your interest flits from character to character over a long period of time. We're used to novels being about one person these days.

But you hit on a point I wish more people would make. A lot of people still say "All you have to do is read the classics to find out how to write."

Sure, as long as all your readers are time-travelers. We have different expectations now. And a lot less free time.
Jan Markley said…
LOL Candy - I don't think George Eliot needs the reviews on Amazon, I suspect she doesn't care much about marketing anymore.

Thanks Anne, and you're right the reality of a reader back then is totally different than the reality of a reader today. Back then they didn't have other distractions like tv or the internet and they had a lot more time to read and novels were often serialized. It is interesting how language changes as society and technology change - if a sentence is more than a paragraph long I've already forgotten what it was about by the time I get to the end of it!
Great post. Super reminders for those of us in the trenches with rewrites. And thanks for lightening my to-be-read pile.
Jan Markley said…
Thanks Jocosa. Yes, fast forward to the movie! Hope your re-writes are going well.
What a great post! I know what you mean about omniscient narrator. And love Donal Maass's books on writing. Thanks for the chuckle and insight.
Jan Markley said…
You're welcome Kathi! I thought I was the only one who didn't like omniscient narration, but I see now that I'm not! Yes, Donald Maass is great, if you ever get a chance to go to one of his workshops - take it!