In defence of miserable, depressing stories

Posted by Paul Samael on Sunday, August 19, 2012 Under: Writing fiction

Well, I always knew it couldn’t last – having been fortunate enough to get five stars from my first few reviews, I now find myself the proud possessor of a 2 star review of my novel (equating to a rather unenthusiastic “it was OK”)  on goodreads.  This particular reviewer, Juanito, appeared to like one or two aspects of it but overall, he felt that it was too depressing and the protagonist wasn't sympathetic enough.  In fairness, he explains that he likes stories which are “redemptive” and I would be the first to admit that mine isn’t.  I'm sorry if he felt misled by the blurb etc - but short of putting a health warning on the front (“Caution: contains characters who you may not like and who may not live happily ever after”), I’m not sure how I can manage readers' expectations better. 

But the review prompted me to ask myself whether my novel should have had a stronger redemptive element.  In my defence, I’d make 3 points:

  1. As Juanito points out, my protagonist has an unhealthy obsession with a relationship that started many years before – but then various more recent events conspire to offer him a way out, so the possibility of redemption is there in my novel (it’s just that, being the thoroughly irritating fellow that he is, my protagonist can’t manage to do the straightforward thing and just seize it with both hands).
  2. One area where he goes wrong is that he thinks a confession will help him achieve redemption, when in fact it has the opposite effect.  So you could say that he is led astray by a misleading narrative of redemption, namely the idea that a confession is a surefire way of making everything alright again.
  3. Juanito is also right that the overall tone of the novel is hardly upbeat – but relentless optimism doesn’t do one of the other main characters in my novel (the founder of the future-obsessed cult) any good either.  And it does seem that we as a species need no encouragement to get carried away with optimistic projections that bear no relation to reality (the recent financial crisis is just one of many possible examples of this).  So in defence of my own miserable, depressing novel and miserable and depressing stories generally, I would say that they can be an important corrective to the temptations of that way of thinking.

Anyway, that’s my explanation of why the depressing, non-redemptive aspects of my novel might conceivably be good things, not bad things – but whether I have managed to translate my theory into practice (and whether the theory is a good one) is not really for me to say, it’s for other readers to judge.  In the meantime, I am going to take comfort in the fact that "Romeo and Juliet" by a certain W Shakespeare was also in receipt of a 2 star rating from this reviewer (which was not a comparison I ever expected to be able to make !).

In : Writing fiction 

Tags: reviews  redemption  goodreads  "bad reviews" 
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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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