This has happened twice in the last few months: I’ve discovered a new author, devoured one of his or her novels, rushed to read the next one (without knowing anything about it), and then discovered a few pages in that this second novel is in fact a continuation or a re-telling of the first one. The same people I had loved; still breathing. It’s hard to describe the sense of astonishment; the sheer delight of realising that something so precious and personal – the world of the first book and all that it meant to me – was still continuing. The reason any of this was possible was because, almost on a whim, I decided not to read the back cover before I began.
It has renewed my determination to shield myself from all knowledge of any plot. On my estimation this is how it works: The back cover of a novel typically gives you about 20% of the plot – it takes you just a few steps in; a book review gives you about 40% – the reviewer wants to prove that he or she has read more than the back cover; a film review gives you roughly 60% of the storyline; while a two minute trailer at the cinema will give you 80% to 90% of the forthcoming film in miniature – saving only the final twist for the two hour film itself.
For years now I have tried to avoid the trailers in a cinema. It’s difficult. If only they showed them before and not after the adverts. I close my eyes of course. And if the sonorous voice-over is too revealing I resort to humming loudly with my fingers in my ears. Don’t ask what they think of me.
Anyway. I have realised anew the thrill of not knowing the plot. The joy of turning a page and discovering what I didn’t know, of seeing a story unfold before my eyes. Isn’t this what authors want? I’ve realised that 20% is too much. And I have made another resolution: never again to read the back covers of novels.