Three novels with interesting structures

I love reading books and stories with interesting structures. Here are three good examples:

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

You can read the opening here.

This beautiful and brutal novel captures some of the horrors of slavery, and its aftermath. Protagonist Sethe is haunted by the past – brought up a motherless slave, life on the plantation, escaping while pregnant, the death of her unnamed baby, waiting for a husband who never came, the sons who left – whether the ‘haunting’ is literal, or purely metaphorical, is open to interpretation, although I interpret the ‘ghost’ as being a metaphor for Sethe’s individual experiences, and the collective experience of slavery.

The story is told by multiple narrators, mostly in a mixture of close third-person and omniscient third-person, but there are also a couple of chapters in first-person. The chapters are presented in a non-chronological order, and jump backwards and forwards in time. The book is divided into three sections, circular in nature, with each beginning in the same way by talking about Sethe’s house.

This structure allows Morrison to build up the characters and the background story, and lead up to several reveals including the increasing violence on the slave plantation, Sethe’s escape, and the death of her daughter. Also, hearing from different characters offers a different perspective on events, especially when hearing from characters who were deceased at the beginning of the book.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

You can read the opening here.

This novel, written for young adults, tells the story of an orphan in Nazi Germany who has a compulsion to steal books. The books are fascinating to her, and have an emotional resonance; the fact book-burning really happened under the Nazi regime enhances her rebellious act.

The story is narrated by Death – but this is a kind, sentimental figure who’s saddened by humanity, rather than something evil that wants to drag you to hell. Death is omniscient, so the narration takes us inside the heads of various characters. The story is told in a non-chronological manner, with lots of flashbacks and some moving about in time.

The book begins with a prologue, in which Death describes their reality and tells us a bit about our protagonist, the book thief, who they inform us they saw three times, thereby foreshadowing the encounters. The book is divided into ten parts, each beginning with some of death’s musings, and a summary that creates expectations about what will happen next. The book ends with an epilogue.

I’m generally not a fan of prologues and epilogues in novels, but they make perfect sense here because they act like a frame story; we keep returning to death, and their musings.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton

You can read the opening here. (NB. Published as The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in the US)

This book is a lot of fun. I don’t want to give too much away, but our protagonist relives the same day over and over, attempting to solve a murder that will take place at a party being held on a dilapidated country estate. The twist (well, one of them) is that he begins each day in the body of a different guest, retaining his knowledge of the previous days, but also taking on some of the characteristics of that particular guest. The story is told in the first-person. Each day moves forward chronologically.

There’s a risk, in repeating the same scenes from the point of view of different characters multiple times, that the book could become repetitive; I didn’t find this was a problem at all, though. Each scene repetition is brief, and offers new information, to help our protagonist, and the reader, figure out who the killer is.

This novel is very well plotted. The structure helps provide the right clues, at the right times, to enable the solving of the crime.

Do you have any recommendations of interesting structures?

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