Let’s first define “narrative voice” because people do mean different things when they use this term. And, often, people try to make a distinction between “style” and “voice.” The general acceptance is that voice is about a point of view, attitude, personality, character, tone, diction, dialect, accent, etc., while style is about syntax, grammar, sentence/paragraph structures, cadences, rhythms, genre, etc. To put it simply, voice is about speech and thought patterns, and style is about how that voice is laid out on the page. My three favorite books on this topic of voice+style are not "how-tos" in the traditional sense. Yagoda's book has interviews with 40-some writers on their approaches; Davidson's book takes excerpts from other works and looks at the sentence-level aesthetics; and Queneau's book takes a simple scene and shows us how to write it in at least 99 different ways.
For those who may not know, Dame Edna O'Brien is an Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet, and short story writer. This past week, she was given the PEN/Nabokov Lifetime Achievement Award "for breaking down social and sexual barriers for women in Ireland and beyond." I have always loved her short stories the most and have featured them in this series in the past. This month, let's celebrate and honor her with a roundup of some of these short stories (free to read online.) The themes she often returned to in these stories were of the challenges faced by Irish rural communities, mother-daughter conflicts, girls coming of age (with their "conscious innocence,” as John Mullan calls it), the other woman, and so on.
[For those who may not know: Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) is a five-day annual event in India and known to be the largest of its kind. This year was their 11th edition.] Over the last two decades or so, every few years, I have been hauling myself to a literary festival in some part of the world or other. Mostly, it is because I believe that the coming together of writers and scholars to discuss, debate, debunk, or define the complex issues of our times, even when such matters are not necessarily chronologically taking place in the here and now, is crucial. And there are very few other venues left in our societies for such dialogue. In the end, whether it enlightens or confuses, such dialogue almost always widens our perspectives beyond our individual cognitive biases and cultural values. I find this to be a vital aspect of my personal development as both a reader and a writer.