So in the days leading up to my defence, I found myself at the Bibliothèque nationale and grabbed a copy of a fantasy novel I read long, long ago but remember quite well, Jhereg by Steven Brust. I remember it for one reason only: the narration. This is a first person novel told by a snarky, world-weary, sly guy who skips telling everything that matters except in retrospect and then always says some version of “Oh yeah, that thing? It was nothing.”
This is rhetorical trickery of the best kind. It allows the story to avoid having to narrate action or portray extreme states of emotion, both of which are difficult to do without appearing forced or even false. It also elicits a lot of sympathy for the narrator by setting up so much of the story as things he doesn’t need to tell because we both already know what’s up. This is the contrived intimacy of the coworker leaning in, eyebrows raised, and whispering “I know I don’t have to tell you this but…” and it works here. I’m asked to imagine a world I don’t need to be told about, which makes the novel a work of (my) imagination. Literally.
I was over a hundred and twenty pages in and having a blast before I realized how much of the story was just random invented actions, one followed by another, with no strict causality and few consequences. A few formal repetitions of action at the end provide closure as the overarching problem is returned to and solved, and then the novel was done. It was completely satisfying.
And I’m very impressed.