Tv blabs, movie blabs, book blabs. Lots of blab, but no flab.

Saturday, May 14

Footloose In Footnotes

How many modern novels can you read today that use footnotes? Few. How many use them effectively without jolting you out of the story? Fewer. I wonder why this is. Footnotes aren't terribly hard to create. This made me think about what other novels I've read recently that may have benefited from a clever use of footnotes. The most obvious series I can recall is Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I think that if the word explanations were an aside as a footnote they would have been rather charming. Sunny's unintelligible gabblings would have fitted perfectly out of the actual text.

I think it is time for the footnotes' return to popular culture. As long as they are put on the same page as the text being referenced. I hate having to thumb through pages of footnotes at the back of a book while in the middle of a sentence.

Someone who uses footnotes to great effect is Jonathan Stroud in The Amulet of Samarkand (book one of The Bartimaeus Trilogy). It is the story of a 5000 year old demon who is summoned by a young boy to do his bidding. There is intrigue, murder, and mayhem following the actions of these two unlikely allies. Nathaniel is an apprenticed magician to a lower ranked government magician, and seeks to take revenge on his master for ill treatment. Events turn for the worse very quickly and Bartimaeus gets the upper hand. He learns Nathaniel's true name, thus giving him power over his master.

I was recommended Amulet by a number of people, and thus began with book with slightly unreasonable expectations. For the first third of the book I wasn't able to connect with the story. The footnote asides in the Bartimaeus story weren't working for me and the boy seemed petulant most of the time. It wasn't until Bartimaeus, in a footnote, explained the reason for the footnotes that something in my brain clicked and I began to like the characters and the book.

Telling the story from both Nathaniel and Bartimaeus' perspectives is a very good way of presenting a plot. The different perspectives contrast in an interesting way to put a good spin on each impossible situation.

By half-way through the story has picked up pace and is steaming toward the inevitable climax. The conspiracy in the government of some powerful magicians is slowly revealed and draws the reader in. I read the climactic chapters until about 4 in the morning.

I think Bartimaeus and Nathaniel have the potential to carry well into a series, and I look forward to getting my hands on The Golem's Eye.

2 viewers interjected with:

Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Footnotes are ace. Okay, maybe House of Leaves got a little carried away with them...! But on the whole I support your campaign for their presence. On the other hand, I HATE endnotes with a passion (the ones at the end of an article as opposed to bottom of a page).

Nice link to other books using footnotes/appendices etc here

16/5/05 9:58 pm

Blogger onanymous said...

Terry Pratchett makes great use of footnotes in his Discworld books - sometimes going off at complete tangents, but mostly even funnier than the main story itself.

16/5/05 10:46 pm


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