Finding a fictional voice must be like learning to sing.

If you discover the melody people listen but hit a few bum notes and the audience is wincing.

The narrative voice in a novel can achieve many things and the finest writers use this to great effect.

The narrator provides the prism through which we see the plot and other characters by speaking to us.

Of course they might not see things correctly, they may try to hide things or persuade you of something that is false but that is part of the artifice the novelist employs.

Great narrative voices seem to carry on speaking long after the book is finished.

Some of my favourites include the wonderful Mattie Ross who takes centre stage in Charles Portis’s True Grit.

Acerbic, unflinching and courageous.

Another great character to keep company with is of course, Harper Lee’s Scout in To Kill A Mocking Bird

They follow in the footsteps of other young story-tellers, notably Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and what a voice he has.

When walking the mean streets it helps to have a guide who can tough it out and Philip Marlowe fits that bill.

Apart from just being someone you want to spend time with, Chandler gives him some of the most brilliant observations to voice. On first seeing Moose Malloy in Farewell My Lovely he says,

“He was a big man but not more than six feet fives inches tall and not wider than a beer truck”.

Another tough guy narrator is the late Phillip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther cast very much in the Marlowe mould with the same smart alec mouth that gets slapped for its trouble and still snarls something back.

Lighter voices also resonate though. Who can resist the charms of Rose Tremain’s Merivel as he trips his way through her Restoration novels.

And then there is the incomparable PG Wodehouse. So many voices, such brilliant stylist poise.

Impossible to pick a favourite, though Bertie Wooster with his mix of half-remembered poetry, snatches from the Bible and oddments of Shakespeare alongside sheer comic lunacy must be in the running.

“I hadn’t the heart to touch my breakfast. I told Jeeves to drink it himself.”


Do you have favourite narrative voices? We would love to hear who they are.