As a fiction writer, I’ve always felt I should have a favorite novel or author, preferably contemporary. But until I read James Clavell’s Shogun a couple of years ago, I’d never read a novel that really did anything.
That’s a pretty vague way of saying that most novels are more a series of anecdotes or short stories, or an entertaining but wandering tale. Sometimes there are moments that take your breath away, and sometimes it’s just a fun read. And that’s fine.
But once in a while, there’s a novel that lives up to the medium’s full potential: The author uses the whole length of the narrative to subtly but irrevocably bring you on a journey in which not only the characters but also the readers change.
Shogun does this most obviously through point of view. You start out looking at the story through the eyes of the foreigner and end up in the mind of a samari. Other books, like Michael Malone’s Foolscap, lead the reader on the journey while the protagonist is on a similar journey. There are any number of methods that could be used; the important thing is that a full story arch (catalyst, climb, climax/resolution) is realized over the course of the novel.