In David Lodge’s book The Art of Fiction, he details multiple aspects of fiction. I’m going to be discussing his views in his chapter on narrative structure, as well as how it connects to Dương Thu Hương’s novel Paradise of the Blind.
In Lodge’s chapter on narrative structure, he states an idea by Aristotle on narrative unity: “a beginning is what requires nothing to precede it, an end is what requires nothing to follow it, and a middle needs something both before and after it.” Therefore, the effect of a novel’s structure is not apparent in any single part of the story, but during the duration of the novel. The story starts with an incident without any prior introduction to the characters or setting. The structure of the novel immediately breaks from the classical structure of narration as described by Aristotle. The reader is in a state of confusion about the time and order of events described by the narrator and main character, Hang, but as Hang continues to describe her experiences, the reader is able to piece together the timeline of her past. The reader also begins to realize that Hang’s information of the past is limited due to the experiences of her childhood.
Another idea brought up in Lodge’s chapter is the idea of direct and reported speech. Direct speech, which uses direct quotes from the character, portrays the character’s personality more than reported speech, which gives a report of what a character said in the past. An instance of how direct speech contributes to portraying a character’s personality is when Hang asks her family members about who they’re talking about. They reply saying “it’s your father you poor thing.” Even though the quote was short, the reader learns a lot about these characters and how they look down on Hang. This lets the reader sympathize with Hang because of her innocence. As the story shifts from past to present the reader realizes that Hang is recalling past memories while on a train to Moscow. Hang tries to justify her recollection of past memories throughout the duration of the story because she is tied to her family and race.
The effect of the novel’s narrative structure becomes truly apparent in the ending chapters of the book. Lodge talks about reversals, which is apparent in these ending chapters of the novel. Hang was trapped in between a fight of ideas in her family, not being able to break out of it. Her action of selling her Aunt’s house, which she inherited after her Aunt’s death, who wanted Hang to respect their ancestors and live in the house, Hang both literally and symbolically breaks away from the cage that she’s been trapped in because of her past. The chopped and skewed narrative structure where the novel starts in medias res, with the exposition being revealed through dialogue and flashbacks scattered throughout the novel. The narrative structure used in the novel helps to keep readers hooked and constantly wanting to learn more about the characters and their backstories.