The Third Person

Posted by Paul Samael on Monday, May 20, 2013 Under: Book reviews

It’s the 1980s.  Lizzie, our narrator, is 14.  Her father has left home and her mother doesn’t seem to be coping too well in his absence.  Lizzie spends an unhealthy amount of time holed up in her bedroom, practising her calligraphy, tending her Victorian bottle collection and making devious and elaborate plans.  These generally involve eloping with Mr Phillips, the shopkeeper (if only he would stop being so obtuse and realise that he and Lizzie are destined to be together), or exacting revenge upon people who have displeased her (there is no shortage of candidates, although her younger sister provides a particular focus for Lizzie’s ire).  But things don’t turn out quite as Lizzie hopes – and although the novel contains a fair amount of humour, it ends up exploring some fairly dark territory (which I won’t say any more about for fear of spoiling the plot).

I found Lizzie’s narration utterly compelling – despite the fact that she is far from sympathetic as a character.  In this respect, the novel reminded me of two other novels with first person narrators.  The first was Zoe Heller’s “Notes on a Scandal”, which features a much older narrator, but one who is similarly manipulative, judgmental and emotionally damaged.  The second was Iain Banks’ “The Wasp Factory.”  I thought of this not just because of the adolescent narrator but because I felt that certain elements of “The Third Person” gave it a similarly weird, slightly macabre feel at times – for example, Lizzie’s obsession with old bottles which she dredges up from the mud of a local creek and the bone-processing plant, whose unpleasant odours waft over the village where she lives.  But I freely admit that my Iain Banks comparison is a bit left-field – and even the Zoe Heller comparison is perhaps not the most obvious point of reference.

What all 3 novels have in common though is that they manage to keep you reading despite the unsympathetic qualities of the narrator – you are carried along more by fascination with their state of mind and the desire to know whether they are going to get away with what they’re planning to do (or what they’ve done).  This is not an easy trick to pull off, but it’s very skilfully done here – to the extent that I found the novel hard to put it down.  The 1980s setting is also faithfully evoked, reminding me of numerous idiosyncratic details which I hadn’t thought about for some time (maybe subconsciously I was trying to blank them out…..).  So, overall, an impressive and unsettling literary novel.

“The Third Person” is available free on Smashwords or Feedbooks.  It is published by Philistine Press, a not-for-profit publisher whose entire output is available free (although appreciative readers are asked to make a donation if they feel so inclined).  That site also led me to this handy list of non-profit publishers

Oh, and there’s some interesting stuff over at the Philistine Press blog too including an interview with Stephanie Newell, the author of “The Third Person.”


In : Book reviews 

Tags: "stephanie newell" "the third person" "philistine press" 
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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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