By Judith A. Ross for Talking Writing
First, a disclaimer: I am a reader of fiction, not a writer of it – and a relatively uncritical reader at that. I am much more focused on a how a story makes me feel than on its author’s technique.
Last summer, when a friend mentioned that she was reading David Wroblewski’s novel about dogs and a mother-son relationship, I took it out of the library. Like her, I love dogs and am the mother of sons.
Any book that holds my attention at the end of the workday is usually an instant winner. For that reason, I was enjoying Edgar’s story – learning the history and workings of his family’s dog-breeding business, and getting to know the characters – both human and canine.
The story, as promised on the book jacket, included the sudden and suspicious death of Edgar’s father. Things were bumping along; Edgar and his mother were working to pull things together, when I was brought up short by the appearance of the ghost of Edgar’s father.
Even I, not always the most discerning and attentive reader in my post-workday haze, immediately wondered – what is the author doing here? Does this even work?
The next day, I looked up the book on Wikipedia and learned that the story was based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A quick review of the Sparknotes on Hamlet (which I haven’t read since college) brought me up to speed. As if remembering the plot of Hamlet wasn’t enough of a hint, my search also revealed the book’s ending.
It has been a couple of months since I finished Wroblewski’s novel and I’m still thinking about his approach – and the role the Internet played in my reading of it.
On one level, I am glad I got the back story before I finished the book – spoiler and all. But it did make me reluctant to keep reading. And it definitely influenced my perceptions.
I am also annoyed. The author had great characters, an interesting story – I wish he had chosen his own path rather than follow Shakespeare’s.
Can this approach to a novel work? Has it? What are some examples? And, what are the advantages and disadvantages of knowing an author’s intent before reading his or her book?
1 hour ago