Re: RARA-AVIS: Unreliable Narrator

From: David Wright (
Date: 10 Nov 2005

--- Karin Montin <> wrote: A second reading of a good book can
> be as satisfying as the first.
Bill wrote:
> >Hey, Vicki, when you get to be my age, you can
> enjoy those trick endings the
> >second time

     There have been some interesting studies of this - most linked to film, but I think it applies just as well to fiction. If suspense is created by the reader's wanting/dreading/needing to know what comes next, why then does it frequently work just as well after repeated viewings/readings. Much to be read about this in places such as "Suspense: Conceptualizations, Theoretical Analyses, and Empirical Explorations," Peter Vorderer, ed. - but ultimately I think it comes down to the readers' own role in the game.

     As genre readers, quite often we know full well what to expect, and relish the fulfilment of those expectations as well as the piquancy of surprises - including remembered surprises that we are willing to rehearse anew. This may partly explain why a mystery reader - (such as that poor benighted soul on the Edgar panel who didn't know what to make of 'The Confession') - can be so flummoxed by noir. They came to play chess, and it turned out rugby. Genre readers love to accuse each other's genres of being predictable, but I suspect really we just have preferred formulae. Who is more predictable: Louis L'Amour or Nora Roberts? Well jeez, neither, but its MY fantasy, and I'd much rather have my dark hero save the day, take his prize and walk out of town, than get tamed into domesticity and hitched
- so Romances are 'formulaic and predictable,' and Westerns are 'consistently satisfying.' As for Noir, most of the readers on this list have a pretty good idea what outcomes to expect and the sort of feeling it will leave them with. The relative unpopularity of the genre may offer us some protection from critiques of the genre as formulaic - were Noir as popular as Romance those downbeat endings would start to seem pretty cheesy, and doom would lose some of its panache.

    Of course best of all, in my book and as others have said, are those all-rounders who have a healthy respect for plot and suspense, and when it comes to character, language and setting are strong on at least two out of three. These are titles that I can confidently place in the hands of bored genre and mainstream readers alike.

David Wright - Seattle Public Library Fiction Dept.
"Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity."
                 -G.K. Chesterton

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 10 Nov 2005 EST