My literary pet peeve - confusing first and third person narrative

Literary Blog HopWhen asked what my literary pet peeve is I actually found it hard to think of something that bothers me all the time.

Everyone has literary pet peeves, but I think that mine are more book or author specific than general pet peeves.

I admit to enjoying books where the author tells the story using by describing people and events, rather than through lots of dialogue. Authors like Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are perfect examples of this (and they both write in Spanish - I wonder if that is the reason?). Still, I couldn't say that the use of lots of dialogue is a pet peeve.

So, I am going to go with something that really annoyed in a book that I read recently - where authors confuse first and third person narrative.

Firstly - what is the difference?

A first person narrative is written from the perspective of the character. Usually, this character is the protagonist, and it is through their eyes that we see the story unfold. They use the terms "I" and "we". This gives usually gives the reader a deeper insight into the inner working of that character. You see what they think and feel from their own perspective by the way in which they speak and think and behave.

A third person narrative on the other hand is written from an outside perspective. The words "he", "she" and "they" are used. The narrator is outside of the story, describing the story unfold. It may be that the narrator provides an insight into the characters feeling and behaviours, but it from an outsiders point of view. It is through description and explanation you gain a sense of the character, rather than through the character's own eyes.

I am not a writer, and I am happy to be corrected if it is required, but it strikes me that if as an author you decide to write in the third person, then you write consistently with this.

I think that the best way to explain this is perhaps by way of example. Recently I read an ARC book that I had been provided for free by a publishing house to review (the review is still pending so I won't say a whole lot about it here) and in it the author was extremely guilty of what I am talking about.

Lets call the main character Fred. The author would say things like, "Fred had been on the train for a damn long time."

If the author was writing in the first person I think this might work well, for example, "I had been on the train for such a damn long time that I could barely keep my eyes open." This gives an idea of how Fred speak and thinks.

But by using that phrase in the third person, it feels as though the author is mixing narrative modes. I get this horrible sense of laziness in the phrase. It feels as though the author is trying to tell the reader what Fred is thinking, without actually telling us that is what Fred is thinking.

Surely, "Fred was frustrated, wondering to himself when the damn train would arrive" works a little bit better in the third person - you can still get a sense of who Fred is and how he thinks, without the laziness of the author not actually saying that what's he is thinking.

In using the phrase "Fred had been on the train for a damn long time" the author is almost turning the narrator into a character themself, and in this book the narrator as just that - an objective narrator.

Okay - looking over the above, I fully accept that there is a reason that I am not a writer, and I also acknowledge that I am doing a terrible job of articulating what I mean.

I wish that I had a little more literary talent and could articulate my pet peeve more clearly for you all but I have done the best that I can.

Does anyone understand what I mean by confusing the first and third person narrative? What do you think?

The Big Four by Agatha Christie

The Big Four is the most exciting Agatha Christie novel I can remember reading.

Hercule Poirot is up against the four biggest and brightest criminals in the world - and has to stop them before their plan to take over the world is successful.

I love the way that Agatha Christie has set up this story. Poirot is faced with many seemingly unrelated troubling little mysteries for him to resolve, only to find that they are in fact related to the big four themselves (I don't think I'm really spoiling anything by disclosing that). Poirot breaks out the disguises and uses a little subterfuge of his own to catch the criminals.

He and Hastings find their lives threatened at many different occasions and in many different ways - but they always manage to escape. The action in this book is completely non-stop and 'edge-of-your-seat' exciting.

The only weakness of this book, if you could call it that, is that it is extremely unbelievable. In fact, the end reminded me very much of a certain James Bond movie that was made fun of in Austin Powers.

Having said that, I was perfectly able to suspend belief and go along with Poirot and Hastings on this dangerous adventure to save the world. It is by far the most exciting Christie novel I have read to date.


What kind of read is this?
Quick and easy, but a nail-biter.

Do I recommend that you read it?
Yes, to everyone.

Do I recommend that you buy it?
Yes. Absolutely.

Star Rating

7 / 8

Brilliant, couldn't put it down. Recommend that you buy it.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs is an exciting tale full of love and adventure; a book for all the ages.

Not only had I never read Tarzan of the Apes, I had never seen a movie adaptation of it either, so I came to this story as a complete novice. This review won't do the book justice, so I hope that you make time to read the book yourself.

In this book, Edgar Rice Burroughs tells the story of John Clayton, born to Lord and Lady Greystoke who were marooned on a jungle island in Africa after the crew on their boat mutinied. Following his parents death while he is a child, John Clayton is taken in by Kala, one of the great Apes that inhabits the island. He is raised an Ape, but begins to explore his true heritage in his parents hut. His curiosity is piqued when an African tribe moves onto the island - but his journey of self discovery reaches a head when an English family are marooned on the island and Tarzan finds himself attracted to the beautiful woman with them.

I loved this story, it had everything you could want from a classic adventure novel. There were pirates, mutiny's, fights to the death, hunting and cannibalism... as well as a little romance.

Strangely, I found the earlier chapters when Tarzan was alone to the island and living with his Ape family the most interesting. Edgar Rice Burroughs did a wonderful job creating a very complete and realistic character in Tarzan - I felt that I was there with him during his adventures and really wanted him to be happy.

When the English and French visitors landed on the island (I won't spoil the story by saying who they are), I began to lose interest. Too much time was spent on what they were thinking and doing, and by then I was very attached to Tarzan and just wanted to spend my reading time with him.

All in all, a really exciting book. The story was so compelling I could barely put it down and I raced through it all the way to the end. If I could re-write it though, I would re-write it with a happy ending.


What kind of read is this?
Extremely compelling, I couldn't put it down.

Do I recommend that you read this book?

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
I read it as a free ebook and that was fine. Probably borrowing it would be sufficient.

Star Rating

6.5 / 8

Brilliant, couldn't put it down.

Have you ever read Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs? What did you think of it?