18 May 2006

Diana Wynne Jones and Conrad's voice

This cover of Conrad's Fate, by Diana Wynne Jones, comes from the British edition. Last year I was in Kew to do research in the British National Archives, stopped into a bookshop, and found the jacket shining in my face. I hadn't known there was a new Chrestomanci volume, but of course I had to put down the pounds. (If you pretend you're paying in dollars, the price is less scary.) The British trim doesn't match my other Jones books, but the US hardcover design for this book turned out to be trying too hard. The paperback cover strikes me as more attractive all around, but I already had my copy.

Series are most often written in the same narrative voice, though the narration might follow different characters. After all, we readers don't want series titles to be too different. One current counterexample is Lee Child's Reacher series, which tells stories about the same man from a variety of perspectives.

Conrad's Fate departs from Jones's previous
Chrestomanci books by coming to us in the voice of the title character. Some folks at Barbelith weren't so taken with this choice. I thought it worked fine for two reasons:

  • The book is about Conrad's understanding of his fate and thus himself, and how that understanding changes as he discovers [surprise!] that he has magical powers. Thus, we have to see the world from inside him, rather than get an outside view of the character. Of course, in this respect Conrad isn't that different from Cat in Charmed Life or Tonino in The Magicians of Caprona, and those series volumes were in the third person. So...
  • From a practical point of view, Conrad ends up working closely with another teenager, Christopher Chant. Jones thus had to differentiate between two teenaged boys with names beginning with C who have the same job and even have to dress alike (though of course Christopher takes better care of his clothes). In third-person, they'd both be "he." But narrating through Conrad means one is "I" and the other "he." I don't know if Jones could have been thinking of that chore, but sometimes a choice in narrative voice rests on simple clarity.
As for the other disappointments at Barbelith, I think endings are often the weakest point in Jones's plots, independent of voice or point of view.

All of which leads to...The Pinhoe Egg, to hatch in September. (My thanks to Elizabeth Waniewski of Dial for a comment at the SCBWI New England conference that sent me scurrying for news of this new Chrestomanci novel.)

No comments: