Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Expectations

A friend loaned us a book she had just read, THE WIDOW, Fiona Barton, which she was so-so about. Her main complaint was the ending. This friend is mostly a reader of crime fiction, and in particular, police procedurals and the better series of cozies. She is a very bright woman. Phil picked it up and found no problem with the ending. Now he doesn't read cozies at all and mostly reads literary fiction (or whatever you want to call it). Their expectations on what the ending would bring were very different. Yet he can also enjoy a twisty read as much as the next guy.

I ran into this again today when someone online reviewed a book called THE BOY WHO NEVER WAS (Karen Perry), which he disliked. It sounded intriguing to me so I looked at a lot of reviews and found traditional crime readers were unhappy with it but those looking for more mainstream novel liked it a lot.

Do your expectations vary with the kind of book you are reading? Do you require a big finish on a book that is not crime?

What do you require from a novel in general?Does it differ with different genres?

16 comments:

George said...

I prefer crime stories with surprise endings. In "mainstream" novels, I like a satisfying ending like Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I generally find "ambiguous" conclusions unsatisfying.

Margot Kinberg said...

My expectations are different for each book I read. But I almost always have expectations. And that can be a big problem when I feel that a book lets me down.

Anonymous said...

I read THE WIDOW recently and really enjoyed it. I had no problem with the ending. Perhaps the complaint was that the "guilty party" escaped justice in a way. Otoh, I recently read Gillian White's COPYCAT. It's no spoiler (because it's revealed on the first page) to say that one of the two main characters is in prison for murdering the other. You don't find out until the last page which one of the two it is and by then I think I was somewhat exhausted by White's attempt to maintain ambiguity for 300-plus pages. For me it's less about expectations (although that is a factor) but about whether the author is carrying out their own agenda successfully.

Deb

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes! If you set up a situation where you have to duck around it all the time it is annoying or confusing.
Good distinction, George. Although a crime novel that has an ending that fits its tone is great too-even if there is no surprise. I can't think of a mainstream novel with a surprise ending but there must be one.
I only have expectations if I have read a lot about the book or read other books by the author. Otherwise I go in blind.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Yes, expectations matter. If I know an author and have read a lot of his/her books, I know what to expect. Sometimes this can work against the book, for instance if an author wants to try something "different" and I think it really doesn't work. I can think of a few titles right now that fit that, but won't name names. Occasionally I have just returned the book and moved on to the next in the series, or if it is really bad it can turn me off the author in general.

I will admit that it might be snobbishness, but I can be skeptical about sudden big bestsellers in the mystery or suspense field, especially when they are being touted by people who do not generally read mysteries (or much of anything, in some cases). I may give it a try (GONE GIRL) or not (THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN), but generally my reaction has not been good when I have tried it.

On the other hand, I've read things that haven't necessarily gotten good reviews if, like you, it sounded interesting to me.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

But on the other hand, is it really "going in blind" if you read a lot of reviews of the book beforehand? To me, going in blind is picking up a book I know nothing about and just read it, and that rarely happens.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Also, I'm pretty jaded. When I'm reading a mystery I don't want to be able to see the solution from the beginning, as in the second book by Andrew Grant (Lee Child's brother). Really. The protagonist never once considered this person to be the potential villain, where it was incredibly obvious to me from the start.

I mean, when you say "Agatha Christie did this 80 years ago, dude" you need some more original plotting.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Although I used to do it, before we got the NYT and before the Internet, I never go in blind now. Generally I find the books I want to read through reviews and then either buy them online or put them on reserve at the library. I do miss the days when I stumbled on a great book though. I can still remember picking up a book by Patricia Carlon and having it knock me out. And so many others. Now I am overly programmed.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

There are just so many books out there we need a way to narrow it down. I remember days of just walking through the fiction shelves at the library looking for anything that caught my eye.

Rick Robinson said...

Expectations? You bet.

From early on, I've been a genre reader, science fiction, fantasy, mystery. With those books, I judge which to read based on (1) author, in which case I have some expectation based on foreknowledge of other books or what I've read/heard about that author, from comments, panel discussions at a con, word-of-mouth. Since I wouldn't try it if I didn't expect to like it, that's my expectation. But only on reading it can I decide if I like the writing, plotting, sense of place and characterization. If I do, I'll usually stick with that author and expect the same in other books, occasionally to my disappointment. Or (2) I have an expectation based on a specific review, often of a book about which I know nothing else, or (3) someone I respect recommends the book and says why and if it sounds good then I have the expectation I'll like it, warts and all. Finally, (4) there is the casual browsing of the shelves at the bookstore or on line during which I spot a book whose cover calls to me. Then it's just genre, cover and maybe blurb and my mood at the time. In this latter situation, my expectations are much lower.

Endings? With literary novels I don't expect a lot, many seem just to end, (or fade away) rather than close. While I don't need every thread to be neatly tied up, I do expect enough closure to wrap things up satisfactorily, at least for me.

Rick Robinson said...

Oh, and I do expect a certain amount of fair play if the mystery is one in which the detective (police, P.I. or amateur) is trying to find the criminal through clues obtained physically or in interviews. I feel cheated if in the last few chapters something or someone shows up that both changes everything and makes the solution pretty obvious. The same with deus ex machina to save Our Hero from a tight jam.

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Richard Wheeler said...

I regularly look through the hundreds of MFA programs offered by countless universities, seeking even one that will award an MFA for genre fiction: mysteries, westerns, sci-fi, romance. There are none. Genre fiction is not deemed to be art, or involve great ability, and is not deemed to be included in the humanities. What genre fiction has, that is often lacking in other fiction, is storytelling genius. But English literature is marvelously messy: what begins as entertainment ends up as art, as is the case with Charles Dickens, Jack London, and Mark Twain. History sorts these things out. Storytelling is a genius in its own right, no matter what academics think.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Megan did her dissertation on hard-boiled crime fiction at NYU 15 years ago. Not sure if they would accept it now.

neer said...

Well, I too didn't enjoy THE BOY THAT NEVER WAS, the use of the word 'that' instead of 'who' was kind of off-putting but I had read some rave reviews so gave it a go.

Expectations? Yes. From every book that I read. Don't know why but often best-sellers don't work for me. It might be that I expect too much from these books.

neer said...

Hi

Here's my FFB for today:

The Third Eye by Ethel Lina White

http://inkquilletc.blogspot.in/2017/03/forgotten-book-third-eye-by-ethel-lina.html