In this series I write about books that I've read, enjoyed and learnt from as a writer.
I kick off with my latest favourite I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh.
The book is a psychological thriller that guts your insides and leaves you gasping for more. There's a lot to learn from it if you write fiction or aspire to write fiction.
The author deftly uses first person, second person & third person narrative in the book and this piqued my interest.
I firmly believe that there are no new and original stories left. They've all been written so what's left is to tell them in a new way. That's exactly what bestselling author Claire does in this book.
The structure of the plot and narrative is the reason why the book is an international bestseller. Take the ingenuous narrative structure away and it's just another Sleeping with the enemy kinda tale. But the author takes an oft told tale and turns into a brilliant OMG book that you'll devour simply by using brilliant narrative structure of using all 3 voices of narration – 1st, 2nd & 3rd.
The 3rd person narrative is used liberally through out the story; in the Prologue and to describe the world of the cops, detective Ray, his friend Stumpy and the sexy assistant Kate is also written in 3rd person. The 3rd person narrative places you as a keen spectator, uninvolved but observing keenly.
The 1st person narrative is used to tell Jenna's story. She is the female protagonist. The voice is intimate and you forge a personal bond with Jenna. Here the 1st person narrative works brilliantly because the author wants to draw you into Jenna's world; feel her pain, her loss, grief and hurt. Jenna is trying to forget the ghosts of a traumatic and turbulent past by seeking refuge in a sleepy village by the sea. The vacant loneliness of a beach resort in the winter mirrors her pathos and you want to hold Jenna as she wakes up screaming from nightmares, struggles to have a normal relationship with her new man friend Patrick.
But the masterstroke is in the Part 2 of the book. The author uses 2nd person narrative in this section to tell the story leading up to the accident. Part 1 is Jenna dealing with the aftermath of the accident and Part 2 is about everything that happened before.
The narrative style of using 2nd person is simply mind-blowing. While the 1st person narrative is intimate and confessional; the 2nd person narrative feels like a sharp pointed tip of a cold dagger being touched on your skin. You stop breathing.
You were sitting in a corner of the Student Union when I first saw you.
I flicked through the paper and listened to your exchanges.
I wasn't going to ask them out. They didn't interest me. Not like you did.
It doesn't take you long to figure out what's happening. A man is stalking a woman. He is scheming, planning to trap her and she is unwittingly walking right into it. This is Ian Peterson – the male protagonist and the woman in question is Jenna, obviously years before the events written about in Part 1.
Use of 'you' makes the you feel as though you are the target of Ian's evil schemes and abuse. Honestly, this part of the book just blew my mind. The author makes you Jenna and hence you feel as though you are the target. This part is so brilliant and scary that you will shiver every time Ian speaks.
The first person voice of Jenna and the third narration of the cops continues in Part 2 of the book, giving you time to resuscitate before Ian returns, making you want to run and hide.
One may ask, why didn't she stick with just the 1st and 2nd person narrative? What was the need for the 3rd person voice?
The reason is simple. The author wants to let you into Jenna's world and her pain hence the first person voice. The pages feel as though Jenna is sitting next to you weeping, sobbing and shivering as she confides in you.
The 2nd person voice of Ian is the masterstroke. It makes the story of abuse and terror so much more terrifying when Ian says, you. When he is yelling and brutalizing Jenna and calls her you, you become the victim.
The cops' world is in third person because, frankly too much of a good thing isn't good at all. There's so much tension and nervous anxiety with Jenna and Ian; if the main cop – Ray was also made to speak in first person; it would have become too heavy. There needs to be some balance and the third person narrative keeps the back story going without adding strain on the reader.
As I said, at the core it's it's just another abuser-abusive story. But what makes this book stand apart and shoot to the top of the bestsellers' list is the narrative structure.
So if you like to read and learn; read this book again and again. Observe and learn how the author has made her characters speak. How she goes from the intimate, confessional 1st person narrative of Jenna to the terrifying 2nd person voice of Ian.
In my opinion, the narrative structure is the real star of the book and as a writer who loves to read to learn, this is a book that gets my vote as a book every writer must read.