I’ve just finished reading a novel by a favourite author, and I began to wonder if there was something wrong with my ability to read. I couldn’t keep track of the characters, I kept confusing them, there was one character who was so suspicious from the moment they were introduced that I felt sure they couldn’t be responsible for the dastardly crime, and then I counter thought that they probably were because they were supposed to be a lovable, sympathetic, helpful character when actually they were just creepy. The story was told from a variety of points of view, and sometimes by a character at different times in their life – as a teenager, as an adult as a much older person. The rather dull detectives were… well, dull; – was that deliberate or was it again something to do with my understanding or interpreting their characters? It was set in an area of the country I didn’t know and the landscape, scenery and settings were well described, but for some reason there again was some confusion in my mind.
So was I a muddled reader? Was I tired? Was I not concentrating? Am I losing my marbles? Well, maybe all of those, but after thinking about the book all day, I came to the conclusion, that fine writer as the author is, for this book they didn’t quite pull it off. I mentioned another book I’m currently reading (yes, I read several at once, always have so maybe that contributed to the confusion, but I don’t think so!) ‘Night Without End‘ by Alistair MacLean, and looking up something about him I came across this quote: ‘MacLean also claimed he wrote very fast (35 days for a novel) because he disliked writing and the “sooner he finished the better,”‘ and ‘that he found writing “boring”‘. He described himself as a journeyman and I can understand that; he was plainly the sort of writer who did it for the end product and worked his way through conscientiously and possibly to a timetable, without sudden inspirational deviations or passionate connections to his characters or personal involvement in the plot. With the book I have just finished, I really felt it was written in a MacLean way, purposefully, disciplined, almost plodding along to the conclusion – well-written, yes, but not with that extra edge which grips and embraces the reader.
When I write I generally have no idea where the story is completely going, although I might have a general idea of the conclusion; sudden inspiration can make me veer off in another direction, or I might be hijacked by a character who demands they do things which I hadn’t anticipated or planned. The writer of the book I have just finished writes in the same way as I do, they have been quoted on a number of occasions and I’ve heard them interviewed and say this. I find it gratifying that someone as good as they are should write in the same way. However, on this occasion, I felt that they got to a stage in the story and thought ‘good heavens, I have no idea which way to go next, I need to finish the story so I will tie up all the ends with this conclusion.‘ Actually I am sure they didn’t really think that, but that is how it read – complicated, unbelievable even in the realms of fiction, and I hate to say it, but it fizzled out in quite a lame way.
I’m not naming the author of this book, because I’m thinking about the way it was written and aspects of it which will serve as a lesson to me when I have too many characters, too many different points of view, too many time shifts, a cobbled together ending and no satisfactory conclusion!
PS: in answer to my rhetorical questions – So was I a muddled reader? Was I tired? Was I not concentrating? Am I losing my marbles? – No, no, no, probably!