Hindered narrators

Interesting piece on “hindered narrators”* in the latest issue of Prospect mag. Unfortunately Prospect no longer makes its pieces available on the Internet (but worth skimming if available in your local newsagent, or purchasing - Prospct is usually a worthwhile read.)

*A hindered narrator is defined there as a first-person point-of-view character who has a limited ability to understand the world or write about it, such as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or the two maids in The Help. The writer suggests the current fashion for “hindrance” in novels is just that, and will pass. Mark Twain might have had something to say about that.

On another subject entirely - Prospect reports that more iPhones were sold globally in the last quarter than babies born.

Are you suggesting that iPhones can act as birth control?


Does Prospect treat this as separate and distinct from the unreliable narrator?

Also, much of mystery fiction might be squeezed into this category, a genre unlikely to pass anytime soon.

My nomination for favorite hindered narrator right now would be Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker.


There have been stories written from the perspective of dogs and cats since forever, and I suspect we wil continue to get a new one every couple of years. Paul Auster’s Timbuktu (1999) and Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing In The Rain (2008) being two I have particularly enjoyed.

My absolute favourite of the ‘genre’, and indeed my favourite book full stop is Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1966).

No, but if asked I suspect the writer would say that it’s a sub-category.

Yes (and it’s debt to A Clockwork Orange rather underlines the weakness in the “fad” argument.) I also quite enjoyed Motherless Brooklyn, but I thought the author could have done more with the protagonist’s “hindrance”.

The writer suggests, however, that there aren’t too many “hindering conditions” that haven’t been done.

There’s a new app.

So vic-k anyone? I think there are many unexplored hinderance available there.

Benjy Compson in The Sound and the Fury comes to mind as, umm, hindered.

Dogs and cats? “Hindered” humans? Child’s play. In The Compass Rose, Ursula Le Guin’s narrator transcribes an ms. found in an anthill, adding, “the text seems worthy of interest if only for its striking lack of resemblance to any other Ant texts known to us.” And of course, “The extreme difficulty of reading Penguin has been very much lessened by the use of the underwater motion-picture camera.”