Sunday, 10 October 2010

Cheating the Reader

I've just finished reading The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse. I was gripped for most of the book, avidly turning the pages, waiting for the denouement which was surely going to happen. I expected high drama, possibly violence - not graphically described, it's not that sort of book, but I reckoned at least one of the characters was going to die.

The pages diminished, my anticipation grew, we were obviously near the end and...then the author let me down. I don't want to give away the plot but the narrator isn't present for any of the dramatic events at the end. She gets told about them. What????? Was that what I read 374 pages for, to hear about the ending second hand?

Well. I was that disappointed. And it's a shame, because Lucie Whitehouse writes beautifully, and is good at creating tension. Up until the ending, I'd have recommended the book to anyone, but now...because of the ending I would only recommend with caveats. I wrote earlier about how the ending, as the last thing we read, colours our memory of the story or novel and The House at Midnight is a good example of a novel falling at the final hurdle.

I just wish she'd got her narrator there to witness for herself what happened. Not only that, but the newly-revealed baddie has run off and is never heard of again. No comeuppance, no final show-down - the characters left standing have to guess what happened.

As writers we ask people to give up their precious time to read our stories. The least we can do is give them a satisfying ending. I reckon that means three things:

1. It's narrated first hand, preferably by the main view point character.
2. Not all the endings need to be tied up, but the big plot questions need some form of resolution.
3. Promises made during the course of the story should be delivered.

In this case, my prediction was accurate. The ending was dramatic, was violent, and someone died. If only the narrator had been there to experience the events...

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