The Millions

Observers, Bystanders, and Hangers On: Ten Novels with Unlikely Narrators

Many—maybe even most—of my favorite books are novels narrated by an observer who does not consider themselves the main actor in the story. Think Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby’s sort-of friend, the perfect mournfully sardonic narrator for one of American literature’s most enduring novels. I love stories told by the supposedly innocent bystander; the less charismatic best friend; the hapless fan or scholar whose own life recedes in the shadow of their subject of adoration.

I especially love books like this because they are honest in two ways other narrative forms are often not. First, a non-protagonist narrator acknowledges the fact that storytelling is always, always about perspective.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Millions

The Millions9 min readPolitics
The Sex Worker Next Door
A writer learns of her grandmother's secret past, inspiring a novel's worth of research about the working women of contemporary China. The post The Sex Worker Next Door appeared first on The Millions.
The Millions7 min read
States of Strangeness and Wonder: A Great American Road Trip
Maybe that is the essential truth about America: there’s no giving up on it. There is always the possibility of reinvention and rebirth. The post States of Strangeness and Wonder: A Great American Road Trip appeared first on The Millions.
The Millions11 min read
Philosophizing the Grave: Learning to Die with Costica Bradatan
He offers us a claim about how some brave souls die for ideas, how their sacrifices illuminate those malignancies that threaten a society in collapse. The post Philosophizing the Grave: Learning to Die with Costica Bradatan appeared first on The Mill