Friday, 31 January 2014

Cephalopod Coffeehouse Review


Every month I attempt to remember to join in with other bloggers posting up book reviews. It also helps me to remember to keep making time to read: if you want to write then reading is essential! 


The Island, Victoria Hislop, Headline Book Publishing

This book was given to me by a friend who had inadvertently ended up with two copies. It came with a shrug. I soon picked up why. The story is well researched, well intentioned, the writing isn't what I would identify as bad, exactly. I feel like a heel for pointing this out, actually, because a story with a kind heart is a good thing: but there is far too much tell and not enough show. I like to work things out for myself. Show me a scene, I'll know if people are happy or sad or complicated. I'd rather make up my own mind, it makes me more involved, and the further into the story I go the more this applies. For example, if on page 206 I need to be told that a key protagonist 'was a mistress of restraint… In this way she kept up the appearance of being contented' maybe the writer doesn't think I have bothered to notice this character trait? Is that a lack of confidence in the writer or the reader? One feels slighted! Still, it was a debut novel. I hope a stronger editor or some honest friends will help shake the annoyances out. I didn't regret reading it.

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13 comments:

  1. Ho, boy. I hate being told what to think also. Sometimes, authors can't resist the inclination to explain.
    Good review. Thanks!

    Author of Wilder Mage at Spirit Called
    Facebook Wilder Mage

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  2. I give you credit for reading a book delivered with a shrug. Did the cover catch your attention, the subject matter? Just curious. But yeah, telling instead of showing is a downer.

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  3. "For example, if on page 206 I need to be told that a key protagonist 'was a mistress of restraint… In this way she kept up the appearance of being contented' maybe the writer doesn't think I have bothered to notice this character trait? Is that a lack of confidence in the writer or the reader? One feels slighted!"

    So, in other words, telling is more forgivable at the beginning? You've given me something to think about!

    I confess I used to explain a lot in my writing (and still have this tendency to tell the reader: "Did you get it? Did you?") But fortunately, I have great CPs who always point this out to me. :)

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  4. Thank you ladies:
    Yep CD, readers need some thought space!
    Yolanda, it was in the spirit of fair play and curiosity.
    Lorena, this is a personal thing obviously but it is how it works for me. I like best a scene that is realistic, in the world of the book, but relevant to the plot/character development: as though someone had simply edited a life. I found reading scripts and plays a good way to learn this. And if you do need to absolutely idiot proof how your reader thinks of a character, yes, do it at the beginning :-)

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  5. ~ just a quick note to say that I will be away this weekend but will get back to checking the Coffeehouse list on return. Please don't think I'm ignoring you! :-)

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  6. Too much tell, not enough show - one sees that far too often in today's literature.

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  7. "Every month I attempt to remember..."

    That soooo describes my Coffeehouse endeavors....and I see The Squid almost daily!

    Are you one to abandon books or do you plug along until the end?

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  8. Indeed, Mr Squid! For a first draft it's okay: crack out what it is you want the character/scene to convey. But the next stage is where the craft is vital.
    Hello MOCK! Attempting to remember is something I do a lot :-) I try to give a book the best chance: but there is a point at which I think I can gain nothing but annoyance from this. Once I was so offended by a writer's sexism that I threw the book on a fire. It wasn't my book but it felt like the right thing to do.

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  9. Hopefully the author gets some advice like this (the constructive kind) and learns to improve from it. I think constructive feedback is essential, and it does seem that this author is probably just making some newbie mistakes.

    I know what you mean about feeling a bit mean though, but honesty is best I think!

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  10. I just finished a book that overexplained, too. It's so aggravating. But I wonder if it bothers us writers more, because we're trained to recognize it? Since the book I just finished was a massive bestseller, and well reviewed, I wonder about this rule sometimes. It seems *only* writers (and even then, not all) care about it. **grump**

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  11. You delivered your critique with kindness in my opinion.

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  12. Constructive and honest is always best Trisha IMHO :-)
    Stephanie, you make a good point. **huffs**
    mshatch, thank you, because even when huffy one does like to be kindly :-)

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  13. Sometimes you read something that doesn't wow you. Sometimes you have to be your own "mistress of restraint" when you write a review. I think your critique was constructive, rather than destructive. After all, page 206 is kind of late in the game to provide that bit of character exposition, if the author was going to provide it at all.

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