A question of blurb

Belatedly, here’s a book review I promised you a couple of week’s back. (I know, I’m sure you’ve been holding your breath in anticipation!) Thing is, it’s a little tricky to review…

The book in question is Chris Cleave’s The Other Hand, which I’d read about on a couple of literary blogs last year, to generally good reviews. On a trip to Belfast last autumn I added it to my pile of ‘books to steal from the parents’, despite my mother being rather negative about it.

Interestingly, the book doesn’t have the usual blurb on its back cover. All it says is:

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it so we will just say this: This is the story of two women…

It goes on to say that it’s the story of those two women. Not a lot to go on, but an interesting way to approach the question of what to say on the back of the book. However, because of this approach I was expecting there to be some massive plot-twist in the story – I waited and waited for it to emerge, but it didn’t. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I really did, I just felt a little disappointed!

It’s an incredibly moving story and had me almost in tears more than once. One of the women is a refugee and hearing her point of view on the British asylum process is eye-opening and damning. I can’t really say much more about it, because, as the blurb goes on to say “please don’t tell them [your friends] what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.”

The question of a book’s blurb is an interesting one. Obviously, it’s what we most often use to make our book-buying decisions, but actually, how much do we need to know? I rather admire an author that’s not willing to spoil the plot for its readers.

Many years ago my mother lent me a book, instructing me not to read the blurb because it would spoil it. As it was a Margaret Forster – a joint favourite of my mother and I – I trusted her instruction. The book was a great read and I enjoyed it immensely. As I reached the epilogue, I discovered that the whole book was a con and threw it across the room in anger.

That particular book, A Diary of an Ordinary Woman, is introduced as a collection of diaries that that Forster was given by an old lady who had documented her life during the major events of the 20th century. I read it believing that every word was true and was utterly distraught on reading the epilogue to find that whilst the diaries had been offered, it was then withdrawn, so Forster decided to go ahead and write the book herself. It’s a fabulous book, but I liked it so much better when I thought it was real!

If I had read the blurb I probably wouldn’t have minded so much. Perhaps in that case it’s my mother I ought to have been angry with, not Margaret Forster, anyway, at least it was honest. Maybe we should all abide by the rule a friend of mine applies to DVDs – no reading the back because it spoils the surprise of the film? That could make life much more interesting…

As an aside…
On the subject of Chris Cleave, this weekend saw him bid farewell to his highly entertaining column in the Guardian Family section (the bit of the paper I go for first on a Saturday). Down With the Kids chronicled the trials and tribulations of his young family’s life over the last two years. Sadly, his children are now old enough to be aware of what he’s writing, so he thought it was time to stop – good call. I highly recommend perusing its archives though, especially if you’re a parent yourself. 

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