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Friday, 6 February 2015

Page-turning fiction - can it be memorable?

I've just finished a book I've been working on for about eighteen months, and now I am catching up with my reading.
As writers we are encouraged to hook the reader by encouraging them not to pause, but to keep on turning the pages. But - one thing I have noticed is that the more tension there is in the plot, and the faster the pages are turning, the less specific detail I absorb, and the less memorable a scene actually becomes. This means that often the climax, the supposed highlight of the whole book, goes by with barely much attention from the reader.
61hiH7Mks-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I was recently reading The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I can remember with great pleasure the early scenes, the loving description of the new house where the new wife is to live and its bizarre and expensive counterpart, the miniature house. But once I am concerned about the life or death of Nella's husband I am too busy flipping the pages to sink deep into the words, and although the early part of the book was memorable for me, the latter part was much less so.
Plausibility is also an issue here, because real life is not so frenzied. The passages in my own writing where the pages are turning, are also the ones most likely to be in need of a reality check. So I recognise Ms Burton's problem. Thrillers are not renowned for being memorable because a thriller writer has this juggling act all the time - the more unlikely the plot, the more the writer must convince  the reader by supplying a slew of specifics, explanatory detail, incontrovertible data. But the same is also true of any other novel, including my own genre of historical fiction.
A good novel perhaps should allow the reader passages where the reader must slow and think, and drink in the words, but also produce enough pace to keep readers motivated to carry on. Many novels that have stayed with me are very long. This could be because the length allows depth, and a long novel can have multiple high-points, and corresponding multiple episodes of deepening, where we can take on more detail.
download (1)What do you think? And is this a balance that is easy to achieve? A book that does this perfectly, to my mind, is The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Page-turning, and memorable.


  1. Interesting points, Dee. There are some books I can barely remember after a week, and others that stay with me for years. I've just re-read Middlemarch. That's a truly memorable one. I'm sure you know it.

    1. A few months ago I read 'I Capture the Castle', recommended by you, which I found to be a wonderful book. A great narrative voice, and memorable characters. It was page-turning in a quiet sort of way, but very absorbing. Don't know why I hadn't found it before. Many thanks!