bookends

“bookends”

narrative structure that sandwiches a large central section (which usually makes up the bulk of the work) between two smaller sections that introduce and conclude the work. The two smaller sections thus stand on both sides of the main narrative, like a set of bookends propping up a row of books on a shelf. Authors may choose this type of structure for two reasons:

  1. to provide another perspective on the action. The narrator of the two bookend sections is often different from the narrator of the main section. This technique therefore offers another person’s perception of the events and their significance, or another character’s comments about the main narrator. Sometimes the narrator of the bookend sections offers information that the main narrator does not or could not know but that the reader needs to understand the full significance of the story.

  2. to indicate the passage of time. Many authors use this narrative structure to present a main narrative that occurred in the past; the bookend sections then provide a current comment on the main story, for example a person describing a diary written by an ancestor found in an old trunk.

Sometimes the bookend structure serves both of these purposes. For example, an adult may provide a current commentary on a main narrative written from his point of view as a child.

Examples: The Unburied by Charles Palliser, A Place of Execution by Val McDermid, Strange Fits of Passion by Anita Shreve, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James


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