Lies and Narrative Structure

I’m over halfway through The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. I’m always curious in F debut novels to see what element might have caught the notice of the publisher. So far, the world of Lies is incredibly vivid; the story is a ripping yarn in the best classic F thief-tale style. But the shallow POV and the narrative structure are driving me nuts.

The alternating chapters of boyhood-Locke’s coming of age and grownup-Locke’s scheming leave me feeling jerked around. The boyhood stuff is solid, and the chapters are cleverly ordered so the timelines compliment each other. But every time I finish one of the current chapters, I hate to have the plot interrupted by another boyhood interlude.

The shallow omni POV also leaves me feeling distant from the characters. I don’t mind a narrative zoom-in or zoom-out at the start or end of a scene, telling me something outside the character’s view (like an unseen pursuer tailing our heroes). The POV at least head-hops smoothly from one character into another in the same scene, rather than abruptly. But I’m constantly distracted by the huge quantities of arbitrarily withheld information — things that Locke and the other POV characters obviously know but the author is artificially hiding from the reader to maintain suspense.

This all combines to make the narrative feel extremely distant to me. The POV does describe the characters’ simple emotions and physical reactions, but except for that, it feels almost cinematic.

Maybe it’s the back-cover comparison to Ocean’s Eleven that sparked this thought, but I think what Lynch has done is write a prose movie. His shallow POV communicates the characters’ basic inner thoughts, the same things shown in an actor’s gestures and expressions. Information that the protagonists know is withheld, just like in a movie, so the reader is surprised at the later revelations.

As a proponant of the limited third-person POV, I’m not sure how I feel about this. Limited-third evolved as a response to the rise of movies and TV–a way to get inside a character’s head that those visual formats could not achieve. Lynch isn’t so much regressing to the authorial omni POV of Tolkien and Lewis, but presenting his story in a movie-like format that is physically vivid yet shallow in characterization.

But if characters are defined foremost by their actions, is this shallow “movie” third-person all a ripping yarn type of story needs? In this age of F video games and F blockbuster movies, is a shallow “movie” POV good enough to reach most readers?


2 Responses to “Lies and Narrative Structure”

  1. mjd Says:


    Interesting points. I appreciate getting your take on this. Haven’t read it…have been meaning to, or at least to sample the prose. I wonder if the shallow-POV, movielike tendency you point out here are in spite of or actually part of the cause of _Lies of Locke Lamora_’s buzz it-book status in the genre. Do you think Lynch’s style is representative of a trend?

    The furor about it makes me think of _Dr. Strange & Mr. Norrell_, which was similarly talked-about, but which I did end up reading and enjoyed very much. Susanna Clarke’s style actually was very meaty and I thought carried the novel in large degree… but did not, at least in my dim perception of the field, end up setting off a trend.

    PS this captcha thing you have at the bottom of your comments is very slick. I think I may steal it.

  2. scott Says:

    hey Mike,

    I think the buzz for Lies was mostly because of the ripping yarn type of story. The world is interesting and vivid, the characters face horrible abuse and dire stakes (rather like GRRM’s), and the plot races along.

    I haven’t read enough current F novels to know if the shallow “movie” POV is a trend–Naomi Novik’s debut had a normal, deeper POV. The Feist I read as a kid was omni head-hopping.

    Strange & Norrell, although equally as hyped, I don’t think is an equivalent comparison because it’s a different subgenre–“literary” F instead of adventure F. The readership in “literary” F is more discriminating, so I would expect the style to be more precise. But adventure F is all about the plot and the world, with style utterly unnoticed by the vast majority of the readership. The “movie” POV worked fine for showing that type of quick plot to that audience.