Twists happen a lot in books. Not just twists, but secrets, red herrings, surprisingly unreliable narrators, and plain old leading-the-reader-down-the-garden-path-by-the-nose. In some books they are not so important, but others thrive on them, not to mention films and television.
Not being possessed of a particularly analytical mind, I tend not to see twists coming. Apart from anything else I don’t want to see twists coming. I find it much more pleasurable to sit up crying ‘Oh! Now that – that was unexpected!’ Himself, being the other way inclined, takes great delight from ferreting out the truth well in advance of when the writer chooses to reveal it.
This led to a period of adjustment at the start of our marriage when I had to train him not to nod in satisfaction half-way through an episode of Doctor Who and announce something along the lines of ‘Yeah, Rory’s going to die. Again.’ In response to which I would hit him in the arm and shout ‘I hadn’t worked it out yet! Shut up!’ – and sulk for the rest of the episode. He has learned now that he has complete liberty to look as smug as he likes – but NOT TELL ME what it is that he has figured out. Because I don’t want to know.
And one thing that annoys me – even more than being told what the twist is – is when the writing is so clumsy even I work it out in advance. I recently read a book that was so clearly signposted that I only skim-read the last fifty pages, checking off everything that I already knew was going to happen. The writer had told me how it was going to end, so I found very little point in actually reading it.
On the other hand, there are writers so brilliant that they can foreshadow to their hearts’ content, and nobody will ever work out what tricks they have up their sleeves. So far as I am concerned the doyenne of this is JK Rowling. You can say what you like about her work (and I know many who are scathing) but the lady is number one when it comes to dangling things in front of her readers’ noses without them ever being any the wiser. She drops hints galore that nobody – not even Himself – picks up on until their second reading, and then cries ‘But it was there all along! How can I have been so blind?’
Now I am reading 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, and although I am only on page 100 or so, I think I’ve already worked out something that Robinson is attempting to keep from me. I do so hope that I am wrong, because I would hate to think that a writer of Robinson’s calibre can fail to hide something even from me, and if I have to be right then I hope that this particular twist only turns out to be a small one. But we shall see. I will keep you posted.