Saturday, 12 May 2007


David Mitchell coerced me into turning over 200 pages (400+ pages of narrative). Nice one David!
He didn't have that success with Cloud Atlas, but more on that to come.
There were, however, two points where I almost jumped ship.

Ghostwritten is a series of interconnected short stories. With every new chapter, we are moved across the globe and introduced to a new character. The reader quickly comes to understand that, in each chapter, the previous character will make some form of reappearance, and that the next character is likely to pop up too. The links are reasonably arbitrary, adding little to the story (feeling 'crowbarred in'), until the final showdown in which loose ends are tied up (although even then I wasn't overly convinced). My guess is that David is more comfortable writing short stories and that he gave less attention to any plot threads that might span the breadth of the novel.
Both of my moments of disillusionment came at the beginning of chapters. In those two instances - the story of the non-corpum and the story of Mo - David kept me guessing for too long. But surely the reader likes to guess at stuff Solv? Surely mystery is an important component of suspense, and suspense is a primary force for page-turning?
The reader begins the novel in limbo, seeking orientation. Where am I? Who am I? Where am I going? David's approach ensured that he would have to reorientate the reader each time he shifted location and pov. And in both the non-corpum and Mo's stories, David was slow to give me that foundation upon which everything else evolves. If you were to wake up in the heart of the night to find yourself being dragged by the earlobes across a moonlit field, certain questions would take priority and would need to be resolved before your thoughts could move on.

I did make it through and I did enjoy the novel. But it was a close battle.
Cloud Atlas lost me. I had no feeling for who I was or where I was or where I was going. I was patient for a few chapters, but I felt no closer to a goal than when I had begun. It made me think of a critique I had received on my lit-fic: This feels like an endless loop of beautiful prose.
A good novel grows, always moving towards an objective, always offering the reader fresh insights and excitement. Within this, the reader must feel that he is being masterfully guided - cared for and protected. He should feel that the author understands him and his needs and desires, and that the author is going to deliver!

What kept me turning the pages of Ghostwritten was a desire to know what was going to happen next. For me to discover what would happen next, I was forced into turning the page. I recognized a whole slew of tricks - tricks that I have used myself.
When Margarita looks forwards to her life of luxury in Switzerland with her lover, you know she isn't going to get it and things are going to go wrong.
When you recognize the pattern - when repetition convinces you that previous characters are threaded into the next story - you are certain that Suhbataar will be returning to create more mayhem.
In these instances, I was compelled to see if my guesses were right or wrong.
When the girl in the tea shack is so poorly treated, and when the narrative traces the key moments of her tragic life, you hope that things will work out for her.
When a mystery caller phones in to the Bat Segundo show and speaks in riddles, you wonder who this mystery caller is and you attempt to piece the puzzle together and predict where the story is going.
In these instances, I could not immediately see where the journey was taking me, but I was in no doubt that we were travelling to a predefined destination, and I wanted to see it.
This is where JKR and Dan Brown excel.

I wanted to see - to discover - to uncover.
My desire motivated me to turn the pages (and note what forms this desire took).
On two occasions, I nearly put the book away. David had not tended to my needs - he had neglected to settle me into my new host, and with my previous questions answered, he was too slow in presenting me with new objectives.

As I work on my page-turner, I think it is probably prudent to imbue my perceived readership with a low tolerance threshold.

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