Layers in Lit

A good novel, even if it does not discuss dimensionality, is a multi-dimensional creature. Authors may use a variety of voices to tell their story, as does William Faulkner in "As I Lay Dying" and "The Sound and the Fury". They may jump around in time, using flashforwards and flashbacks to build their story in a mosaic. They may change narration styles with each chapter, as in James Joyce's "Ulysses", in which the author suddenly switches into a journalistic writing style when his characters enter a newsroom. In the new style of "postmodern" literature, which employs all of these techniques, the narrator may even step out of a first-person voice to give commentary on the action.

Another manifestation of this is the increasingly common device of looking at classic texts from new perspectives, such as in retelling stories from the points of view of minor characters. In Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," the playwright imagines how the tragedy of "Hamlet" might have appeared from the point of view of its two least important characters. In Jean Rhys's "Wide Sargasso Sea," she uses the story of "Jane Eyre" as a jumping-off point, and chooses as her protagonist the madwoman in the attic.

Obviously, dimensionality for its own sake does not make for a good book, any more than the presence of spices means that food will be tasty. Hyperconsciousness about all the aspects of the modern novel on the part of a modern writer tends to make their work jumpy and self-conscious. The good authors are the ones who can integrate all the many aspects of story-telling with the story they want to tell. And within that process exists a multitude of dimensions.