My wife has been working through a list of books dubbed by someone or other as “100 great novels of the 20th century.” The books she’s read so far have included The Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse 5, White Noise, On the Road, Never Let Me Go, Wide Sargasso Sea, Death Comes for the Archbishop, and Brideshead Revisited.
She observed this evening that the books she’s read tend to have something in common. In each, there is a narrator who is explicitly a character in the novel, but this narrator doesn’t really do anything. Instead s/he reports the actions of some other, much more interesting person or group of people.
My question is: Is this a recognized trend in 20th century literature, and if so, what has been said about the whys and wherefores of this phenomenon?