The best first-person novels

Patty Dann Author Of The Wright Sister
By Patty Dann

Who am I?

Since I was a young child, I have always craved tender and fierce stories more than food or drink or normal social life. Eavesdrop is the first word I remember learning. I grew up next door to a convent and the nuns in their black habits, would let me join them on their walks. Taking walks, whether in cities or in the woods, remains an important part of my life, for my sanity and my writing. Whether I’m writing a personal essay, a novel or a non-fiction book, strong and quirky voices are what pull me to the page.

I wrote...

The Wright Sister

By Patty Dann,

Book cover of The Wright Sister

What is my book about?

When Katharine Wright, a spirited and strong-willed suffragette, got married at 52 in 1926, her brother, Orville, refused to speak to her ever again! That is a fact. This short novel is an imagined story from Katharine’s point of view.

The book is a blend of two forms- letters Katharine writes to Orville when she moves 600 miles away to live with her journalist husband in Kansas City, and a marriage diary, where she writes about her passionate yet anguished life, late at night, often in the empty bathtub.

The books I picked & why

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Fresh Water for Flowers

By Valérie Perrin, Hildegarde Serle (translator),

Book cover of Fresh Water for Flowers

Why this book?

I love books where I’m captivated by both the language and the characters, as I am in this startling novel told through the eyes of Violette Toussaint, the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne. Violette says there are two confessionals in the town, one in the church, the other in her cottage, and I am totally entranced by the stories she hears and what she divulges about her own surprising past. Perrin’s story is magical. 

The Girl with the Louding Voice

By Abi Daré,

Book cover of The Girl with the Louding Voice

Why this book?

The Girl With the Louding Voice is a triumphant novel, written with the compelling voice of a young Nigerian girl named Adunni. As she says, "I am not a wasted waste. I am Adunni. A person important enough because my tomorrow will be better than today."

Surviving what is often a violent and cruel life, I find myself cheering at the beauty of Adunni’s spirit.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

By Ocean Vuong,

Book cover of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Why this book?

This book is dazzling. It is true I have a weakness for epistolary novels, which this is, but as bold and unique as it is, I would recommend this book to everyone. It’s an exquisite love letter from a young man in Connecticut, nicknamed Little Dog by his family, to his Vietnamese mother.

This book takes my breath away, because we feel the raw anguish as the narrator grows up, dealing with his sexuality and longing and all that he and his family have endured.

The Bird Artist

By Howard Norman,

Book cover of The Bird Artist

Why this book?

 I confess I have read Howard Norman's The Bird Artist, set in 1911, five times.  The narrator is Fabian Vas, who draws and paints the birds of Witless Bay, Newfoundland a wild and remote coastal village. 

At the start of the book, we learn that Fabian has murdered the village lighthouse keeper, Botho August. The story pulls the reader along as we follow the tantalizing story of romance, passion and betrayal in this remote and wondrous place.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

By Gail Honeyman,

Book cover of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Why this book?

I cannot stop thinking about Eleanor Oliphant! She’s one of those characters that remain constant in my life. And contrary to the title, she is not completely fine at all, and yet, she is one of the most charming characters I’ve ever met. She lives a small and obsessive life, working in an office, trying to overcome her cruel childhood. But after she meets the unique young man Raymond, somehow, throughout the intense sorrow, there is a great and transcendent joy.

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