July 16th, 2012
What I only noticed about a quarter of the way in is that these three interwoven stories are actually written in three different viewpoints. There’s the first person point of view for the present, tight second person focus for the years with Spanner, while the chapters focusing on her family are in a much looser second person focus. The difference is that in the first form of second person focus we’re still inside Lore’s head most of the time, with the text refering her as “she”, while the second form, we see her from the outside, as “Lore”. It is of course symbolic for her growing up, maturing, going from what others see her as, to what she sees herself as. A coming of age story that is not nearly as obvious as most such are in science fiction.
I also wrote that it had been first published in 1991 rather 1995, which prompted Nicola herself to correct me in order to be polite and in passing she also explained about how Slow River is arranged (all quoted by permission, natch):
The three narrative layers/POVs (I think of them as points-of-view lacquered on top of each other so that the imagery and emotion bleed through) are formally arranged in an ABA C ABA C ABA pattern:
- C = Lore age 5 to 18 in third person, past tense
- B = Lore age 18 to 21 in third person, past tense
- A = Lore age 21 and up in first person, present tense
I’ve talked in various places (I really should pull it all together at some point, but haven’t yet) about why I chose the POV and tenses. Short version: present tense is an indicator of a dream-like state, which is what childhood is; third person, like past tense, is the traditional POV and tense; first person is my way of signifying that this is the narrative present, this is the Now of the book, telling the reader “You are here.” At the same time, I really wanted the emotions to form an easy narrative through-line so the reader never feels confused.
It worked for me and I’m not the only one who noticed this structure; so did Russ Allberry for example. What struck me about it is that this works even if you don’t notice it consciously, which is the hallmark of a good writer.
If you want to read more about how Slow River was written, the essay layered cities about the city at the heart of the story, as well as writing Slow River, an interview, are highly recommended. Nicola Griffith’s latest novel is the historical novel Hild, which won’t come out until next year unfortunately.