Reading a novel is like going on a voyage down a river.
Sometimes the water’s smooth and calm, sometimes rough; occasionally you may find yourself in whitewater rapids; and ultimately it flows into the sea.
If your boat gets ambushed by a rogue current and becomes snarled up among tree roots and rushes in a muddy backwater, that spoils your journey.
But does it make you give up on the book?
That happened to me recently with JK Rowling’s novel The Casual Vacancy.
She’d gripped me, early on, with a vivid description of a social worker visiting the dysfunctional family of an abused child. But then, as I saw the way her narrative was tending, I decided I wasn’t in the mood to read an unrelenting account of numerous people behaving in a particularly unpleasant way.
But as I loved all the Harry Potter books, and admire JK Rowling herself, I decided to put the book aside and return to it at another time, when I may feel differently about her choice of subject.
I believe that the way we respond to novels is a complex mixture of mood, temperament, expectation, and our own experience of the world.
And when our expectations have been defeated, we might love it – or we might immediately get onto Amazon and bestow a one-star review.
Various factors determine whether we do the latter – or wait, and perhaps come back to it another time, as I plan to with The Casual Vacancy.
I enjoy reading different responses to my own novel Mystical Circles. Of course, like all authors, I feel happy if I see that the majority have given it 5-star reviews (especially on Goodreads, Amazon & Barnes & Noble).
But the reviews that intrigue me – for any novel – are the one-star reviews. I quite often go to them first, specially to find out what is the worst that can be said of this novel.
But does that put me off the novel? No way! It can even enhance my interest in the novel, by giving it an extra dimension.
I believe the most interesting lessons are to be found in extreme divergence of opinion.
What do you think?