Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is told in a somewhat complex manner. Above all, it features a self-conscious narrator who not only criticizes his own choice of words but also alternates frequently between third-person and first-person narration. The fact that Michel refers to himself in the third person is a bit disconcerting in itself. It shows, however, that he is uncomfortable associating himself with the “character” Michel who has suffered through such a psychologically painful experience. He is therefore putting distance between himself and the person who went strolling along the river with the camera. His vacillation between the two perspectives may simply demonstrate that he has not yet resigned himself fully to either position. Though certainly unorthodox, the frequent shifting from one person to the other is not a major obstacle to the reader because it is obvious that the narrator and Michel are one and the same.

Of equal interest from a technical standpoint, and certainly more disconcerting to the reader, are the narrator’s frequent references, usually within parentheses, to the birds and clouds that pass by his window as he tells his story. One reason for including these references is to show the narrator’s position in the present as he tells his story. The references, which interrupt the narration, also emphasize the profound effect that the experience has had on the narrator, as he is unable to maintain a steady narrative course and alternates between what happened and what he sees outside his window. The problem for the reader here is that it is virtually impossible to understand these references at the time that they are presented because Michel’s physical surroundings as he narrates are not revealed until the end of the story. The disquieting effect they have on the reader is quite intentional, however, as it underscores the tenuous mental state of the narrator.