Point of View

My mother-in-law and I were talking about how much we’d loved Olive Kitteredge. She singled out the way that Elizabeth Strout moves, seemingly effortlessly among the multiple points of view. You go in and out of Olive’s perspective and that of the other townspeople easily, knowing all the while just where you are.

What was once a huge innovation in fiction a century ago has become commonplace, the way people write novels now.

Still, as a writer who is not a novelist, I’m continually amazed when writers pull it off. I’m back at editing Mrs. Dalloway again, hoping that my sabbatical next spring will afford me the chance to bring this process to a conclusion.

This time through, I was struck by this lovely, eery shift in point of view from the opening pages, when all the characters look up to see a skywriter:
So, thought Septimus, looking up, they are signalling to me…Tears ran down his cheeks.
It was toffee; they were advertising toffee…
Woolf wanted to show “the world seen by the sane & the insane side by side” (Diary, 14 October 1922) and in this tiny moment, in which an advertisement is both a secret signal and a lure to all with a sweet tooth, does just that.