Parallel Narratives, or Entwined Storylines

by Jocelyn R. (SnoIsleLib_JocelynR)

I recently realized that I find some novels appealing because they contain parallel narratives. Parallel narratives are generally entwined storylines that are connected to a person, place or object like a diary or piece of art. Why do I enjoy reading stories with parallel narratives? Well, often one of the parallel narratives is historical while the other is contemporary. I truly enjoy the juxtaposition of the past with the present.

My first introduction to these narratives occurred with the historical parallel narratives contained within some of Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series. In the early novels in this series, the author included a narrative related one of the main characters. For example, in Out of Control we see several characters reading the biography of Rose von Hopf, Savannah von Hopf’s (the female protagonist) grandmother. So as Kenny and Savannah are in Indonesia attempting to save her uncle, we also learn about how Rose became a spy during WWII. I absolutely adored these historical parallel narratives and was sad when the author stopped including them as often in her works.

More recently I enjoyed A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner. This novel features stories connected by an ocean liner, the Queen Mary. We see two historical narratives, those of a young German woman and a young Frenchwoman during WWII, and a contemporary narrative featuring a woman who has a unique connection to the ship.

Looking for more novels with parallel narratives? Here are a few titles and a list to get you started.

The Kashmir Shawl – Rosie Thomas
Newlywed Nerys Watkins leaves rural Wales for the first time to accompany her husband on a missionary posting to India. Deep in the exquisite heart of Kashmir lies the lakeside city of Srinagar, where the British live on carved wooden houseboats and dance, flirt and gossip as if there is no war. But the battles draw closer, and life in Srinagar becomes less frivolous when the men are sent away to fight. Nerys is caught up in a dangerous friendship, and by the time she is reunited with her husband, the innocent Welsh bride has become a different woman. Years later, when Mair Ellis clears out her father’s house, she finds an exquisite antique shawl, a lock of child’s hair wrapped within its folds. Tracing her grandparents’ roots back to Kashmir, Mair embarks on a quest that will change her life forever.

The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton
A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book–a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-first birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, “Nell” sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell’s death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. A spellbinding tale of mystery and self-discovery, The Forgotten Garden will take hold of your imagination and never let go.

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2 responses to “Parallel Narratives, or Entwined Storylines”

  1. Jordan says:

    Great list, Jocelyn! I love Susan Meissner two of my favorites are Secrets of a Charmed life and A Fall of Marigolds. Sarah Jio is another favorite whose novels contain parallel story lines and another fun part to her books is they all take place in or around Seattle (Blackberry Winter is my fav).

    • Serena S says:

      I’m also a fan of Susan Meissner and with today being the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, A Fall of Marigolds would a very timely book to read this month. A Fall of Marigolds is the story of two women, who survive tragedies in New York City. One is a survivor of 9/11 and the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is approaching. The other is a survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1911, and she is a nurse at the hospital on Ellis Island. The two women are linked by a scarf.

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