Off the Shelf

Book Recommendations featuring Unusual Narrators by Carol Urban

This month, we’re pulling off the shelf a half-dozen books that have just one thing in common: rather unusual narrators. Suspend disbelief and let a mountain lion, or a 15th century child ghost, or a fig tree tell you a wonderful story!

The Pages, by Hugo Hamilton

The narrator of this ingenious novel is a book — Rebellion, by Joseph Roth. Published in 1924 and having escaped the 1933 Berlin book burning, the volume is now in the hands of a young American who has traveled to Berlin with it. The book tells of its escapades in Berlin and of the calamitous life of its brilliant author. As Colm Toíbín wrote in his review in The Guardian, “Indeed, every time this book, this character, in tones both self-depreciating and wise, lets us know what it sees and feels and remembers, it enhances our sense of its quirky and necessary presence.”

Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt

Meet Marcellus, a cranky, mischievous giant Pacific octopus who develops a bond of sorts with the aquarium’s nighttime cleaner and who narrates a portion of what Alexis Burling’s Washington Post review called an “…ultimately feel-good but deceptively sensitive novel about what it feels like to have love taken from you, only to find it again in the most unexpected places.” (Highly recommended as an audiobook and available on demand through Hoopla). 

Briefly, A Delicious Life, by Nell Stevens

The title of this very charming, very off-beat novel is a quotation from Chopin. It is 1831, and the lovers Amantine Aurore Dupin (aka George Sand) and Frédéric Chopin, seeking warmer climes, take up residence in the 14th-century Charterhouse of a former monastery in Mallorca. (Note: this much is true!) The narrator of their misadventure is Blanca, a delightful, irreverent child ghost who died at the Charterhouse in 1473.

Open Throat, by Henry Hoke

Gaze upon humanity through the eyes of a mountain lion living in the desert hills surrounding Los Angeles’s Hollywood sign. As New York Times reviewer Marie-Helene Bertino put it, “Though many readers will label Open Throat unconventional, this act of ravishing and outlandish imagination should be the norm, not the exception. At its best, fiction can make the familiar strange in order to bring readers and our world into scintillating focus. Open Throat is what fiction should be.” (Highly recommended as an audiobook and available on demand through Hoopla). 

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara is Josie’s solar-powered AF, i.e. Artificial Friend, and the narrator of this deeply affecting novel. Although the premise is a bit sci-fi, Ishiguro’s story is oh, so human. NPR’s Maureen Corrigan sums it up perfectly, “I’ll go for broke and call Klara and the Sun a masterpiece that will make you think about life, mortality, the saving grace of love: in short, the all of it.”

The Island of Missing Trees, by Elif Shafak

Alternating between the tumultuous 1970s in Cyprus and present day London, Shafak tells an enthralling tale of love and loss, mystery and understanding. In her laudatory review in The Guardian, Susie Boyt wrote that the novel “blurs the boundaries between history and natural history in profound and original ways. Oh — and one of the narrators is a fig tree.” And she concludes, “I came to admire this tree, which piqued me at the start. Its generosity, its understanding and its foibles seemed Shakespearean.”

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