A novel set in the seventeenth century, Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999), and a movie, Goodfellas (1990), set in the later part of the twentieth century have something in common. Both have female main characters who narrate the story in the first person . . . great idea for the movie, but not such a great idea for the book.
In general, it is not a good idea to write an entire book in the first person because it limits the scope of the story and, frankly, gets a bit tedious to read after a time. Although the story idea is clever and well-imagined, I fostered a growing dislike of the main character Griet. Therein lies the problem with first person narration–if one doesn’t like the main character, it’s difficult to sustain an interest in the book. However, Girl is so unique in its subject matter, which reveals the inner workings of the Vermeer household from the maid’s viewpoint, that I finished the story.
In contrast, I adore Martin Scorsese’s movie, Goodfellas (1990). Unlike a novel, first person narration works better in a movie, for the visuals offer the viewer a type of third person, omniscient point-of-view. The female narrator (Karen Hill) who tells the inside story of a mafia wife is a sympathetic character. Not quite innocent and not quite naive, she gives the audience a believable and intimate look at the life of a mob family. Using a female point-of-view to tell a mob story is deliciously ironic.
Girl with a Pearl Earring may soon become a movie. This could be a case of a movie being better than the book that inspired it. Can you think of any books that worked better on the big screen?