The Islanders: End of Book Discussion Part 2 - Narrator & Author

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The Narrator & The Author

About the narrators - we are introduced to a person in the intro, but after that the tone is no one's voice from nowhere. The voice of authority, or the Wizard of Oz if you prefer.

I think this is quite true for the gazetteer entries, which contrasted significantly with the 'fictional' entries. Any thoughts on the contrasting tone?

I don't mind unreliable narrators, but when the author announces this in the intro, this signals that the author does not care, and further more is using this authorial unreliability as an 'artistic' statement.

Does it signal that the author doesn't care? Should novels (or novel length books, anyway) eschew artistic statements? Did this book go too far in sacrificing the things we want out of novels in order to make it's statement?

I too found the unreliable narrator annoying in the Introduction - "I don't know much about this, or this, or this, and nobody knows anything about this!" - well stop telling us about it then. I do usually skip introductions, even when they're in character, and I wished I'd done that here.

I'm never one skip an introduction, myself, and don't quite understand why some people do, but it's certainly a thing people do. @rossum also made a point of skipping introductions. I can't help but think skipping this one would really rob you of the experience of the book, though. Where do you stand - either for this book, or for introductions in general? In telling is what he didn't know, was Kammeston actually telling us something about himself?

I guess my starting position is that it doesn't matter how much speakers insist that they are the initiators of language, speakers cannot ever be anything other than derivatives of listeners. They are utterly trustworthy in this way. I'm waiting to see if Priest is a listener, and what grows out of his speaking.

This circles back again to the question of who is more important - an author or a reader. We've all read the same book but with very different reactions. Where the 'meaning' of the book is concerned, this isn't surprising; Priest didn't give us a roadmap. But this was also true in some of the more mundane entries, where Priest was describing the history of an island. I find the contrast quite interesting.

The second statement is also interesting, because it calls into question the character of the author. Is Priest a 'listener'? Several assumptions about the nature of the author were made during our discussions? Can we really judge the author based on a reading of one of his many books? To what degree do we feel secure in these judgements?

I am beginning to think Priest is an elf, as in "Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes"

LOL. Quite right!

Comments

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    Harking back to Q1 and the difference between guidebook and travelogue. Priest I think is more interested in presenting a travelogue of the Archipelago, full of impressions and feelings; but has presented it as a guidebook, full of emotionless facts. I don't think the form he chose here is a good match for his intentions.

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    The book is full of apparent authors! Some are writers of different islands' descriptions - and I am assuming here that not all entries were written by the same person, in view of the several-times-repeated assertion that most of the archipelago inhabitants so not travel widely. In any case, it's logical in a gazetteer that you get a writer to contribute a particular section about which he or she knows most.

    But as well as that, there are characters who are authors, including one (Kammeston) who also wrote the introduction.

    Are any of these self-referencing? Not necessarily - it's fair game for a (real-world) author to include people in a profession he or she knows about, which is kind-of drawn from their own experience or associates, but which in totality holds different views or attitudes from the (real-world) author. It's all too easy, and often mistaken, to try to infer something of the author from a single example of their works.

    I do think the attempt to blend a composite account of several events, in particular the death of Commis, from a variety of viewpoints is an interesting narrative strategy. It puts you as reader in the position of asking "whose version do I believe, if any?" rather than just taking things as read. However, unlike (say) a mystery or detective book, there is no ultimate unveiling of what really happened. This was very obviously a deliberate move on CP's part, but I do wonder if it works as a strategy - especially when we read the book over a period of many weeks. For me at least, with all kinds of other things going on in real life, it became far too easy to lose track of who we had heard of before and what was said about them (the weekly notes by @Apocryphal were absolutely essential for me not to lose the entire plot :) )

    This is part of what I mean by saying that - at least in this book, and probably others of his judging by what has been said - CP is not going to give us any real sense of closure. The book itself does not exhaustively list all islands, not even all important ones, and we aren't told what the basis was for selection. The various stories of individuals do not resolve into a clearly true version (perhaps with some vagaries around details). The various couples relationships described do not really end in a positive or life-enhancing way for either partner. Typically they just drift apart.

    Now, in view of what I commented last week, that the book cover subtext is manifestly an inversion of "no man is an island I am involved in mankind... send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee", what are we to conclude? At one extreme, that CP simply does not believe this and instead adheres to a much more radically isolationist philosophy? Or at another, that he does believe it, and is showing us by way of a complex metaphor that too much island living is self-fulfilling and leads to a lack of personal and collective closure? Or something in between? Maybe the other books will tell us - but I'm not holding my breath, as I am now convinced that CP chooses to reveal only a tiny fraction of what he personally thinks about is created world.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    The book is full of apparent authors! Some are writers of different islands' descriptions - and I am assuming here that not all entries were written by the same person, in view of the several-times-repeated assertion that most of the archipelago inhabitants so not travel widely. In any case, it's logical in a gazetteer that you get a writer to contribute a particular section about which he or she knows most.

    I don't think that we should care about "authors." The entries span loads of space and time, and Priest doesn't call attention to any of the non-story authors. I don't think it's a useful line of investigation. Priest could have made a lot of the different people and times, but chose not to. By the same token, I'm not sure Priest much cares about the detail of how things fit together, if it allows him to make the right impression.

    For me at least, with all kinds of other things going on in real life, it became far too easy to lose track of who we had heard of before and what was said about them (the weekly notes by @Apocryphal were absolutely essential for me not to lose the entire plot :) )

    I'll heartily second that! The summaries and questions were great.

    Now, in view of what I commented last week, that the book cover subtext is manifestly an inversion of "no man is an island "

    I think it far more likely that some jobbing cover artiest/editor put a random "Island" quote on the cover, than it was some deep reference to the fundamental meaning of the book.

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    @NeilNjae said:

    Now, in view of what I commented last week, that the book cover subtext is manifestly an inversion of "no man is an island "

    I think it far more likely that some jobbing cover artiest/editor put a random "Island" quote on the cover, than it was some deep reference to the fundamental meaning of the book.

    There seems to be a widely held view that is is a genuine subtitle, but I have not yet found any real evidence for settling it one way or the other (which is, perhaps, a commentary on the book itself...)

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