Fragmented fiction: A new kind of novel?
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
I read a fascinating blogpost this week entitled “The Rise of the Fragmented Novel” in which the author, Ted Giola, posits we’ve entered into a new era of a novel’s structure. Rather than a smooth narration, the 21st-century novel unfolds in bits and pieces. Sometimes those pieces don’t seem as if they’ll fit together at all; yet in each novel, the bits come together in a manner that pleases the reader who is paying attention. (He does trace the development of this type of novel through its history, showing it’s not a new development but a new expression of an old idea.)
For me, the post highlighted a number of novels I’ve read and raved about (except for Atonement, which I didn’t especially appreciate). But I hadn’t seen the similarities between their structure until I read Giola’s blog.
On his list were:
- Geraldine Brooks’s The People of the Book, which moves through eras in which various people possessed the book, and the clues to who they were left in the book.
- Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, a study of time and what happens when a person doesn’t experience its confines.
- Ian McEwan’s Atonement
- Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, which I wrote about here.
I would also add Gone Girl as a novel that is told piecemeal by two untrustworthy narrators; so the reader wonders wherein lies truth–if anywhere.
In some ways each of these books is like a mystery. The author leaves clues throughout for us to put together the puzzle and to form a whole, but part of the enjoyment in reading them is seeing how the author had been in control of the narrative all along. Watching a master craftsman at work is a wonder.
How did fragmented novels gain ascendency in popularity? For one thing, as Giola points out, we are a society that reads in fragments: tweets, FB posts, blogs. Today’s movies teach us to expect jerky camera movements, blurred images that eventually focus, frequent scene changes, dabs of dialogue doled out sparingly.
Simple, straightforward narratives with sweet endings aren’t a reflection of the life we live post 9/11. As Giola says, “Most of us are deeply suspicious of proffered unities nowadays–and for a good reason, no? Been there, done that. Tidy narratives have become the domain of politicians and ideologues.”
Does the idea of writing a fragmented manuscript excite you or seem uninteresting? Why?
How could the method of fragmentation work in writing nonfiction?
What fragmented books have you read? Did you enjoy them or did they frustrate you?
Have you read a fragmented novel recently? Click to tweet.
Is a fragmented novel a new kind of book? Click to tweet.
Why are fragmented novels gaining in popularity? Click to tweet.