by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
So I just finished my first e-book – The Passage by Justin Cronin – and what an experience it was. God only knows how many pages (Amazon’s kindle app fails to tell me) but I must have wracked up 780+pages in 48 hours. I literally couldn’t put the book down – but now, a mere 5 hours or so after finishing it, I started reading some of the reviews and a couple of the more unfavorable ones started to tweak a nerve and that’s when it hit me – this author did stuff that is usually totally taboo, stuff that usually sends a book down the big toilet – and yet it worked. The book still had me up all night turning the pages…This author broke the rules and managed to transcend the ‘genre’ by writing a literary thriller/horror/post-apocalyptic novel that did many of the things we tell young writers not to do – and he pulled it off! That alone (in my humble opinion) is worth blogging about. So what did he do?…Let’s take a look at the short list…(NOTE: SEMI SPOILER ALERT – NO REAL PLOT DETAILS ARE DISCLOSED BUT STILL, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!)
- He did an introduction that contained so much backstory that most of as TKZ would have nixed those first few pages. He then continued to meander and tell the tale with very little in the way of relevant action that even had me wondering – where the hell are we headed with this?
- Then- after nearly 100 pages he promptly kills off almost all the characters and makes the reader time shift 100 years or so into the future. All the characters I felt really invested in promptly disappeared in an instant, only to be replaced by new characters whose backstory had yet to be explained.
- He continued to ‘tell’ whole chunks of backstory for each of his characters – No doubt he has literary chops but still, there was a lot of the old ‘telling’ and not a lot of the old ‘showing’.
- He told much of the critical ‘action’ scenes as email/diary entries which diluted their immediacy. Hell, he even ended the story on one…speaking of which…
- He ended the book on such an ambiguous note that even I was asking myself why I had just spent 48 hours reading the book -until I realized it was book 1 in a proposed trilogy and then it all (kinda) made sense. (But boy, what I rule breaker to leave a gripped reader confused like that!)
- He had a critical character who pretty much did nothing proactive in the entire book except via telepathy and dream sequences.
- Almost all the plot (and many specific scenes) were derivative of stories that had come before (The Stand, The Road, 28 Days)
Yet, despite all these ‘broken rules’ I was still totally gripped – for two days the book lingered in my mind and wouldn’t let go. It had that undefinable something – an epic quality – that transcended all its faults.
So have you ever read a book that has done the same thing – which flies in the face of convention (and falls into many of its cliches) and yet still flares with its own ineffable brilliance? A book that transcends both genre and all the (so called) ‘writing’ rules?
For me, it may not be The Passage – there were many things about that frustrated the Hell out of me (including many of the ‘broken rules’ listed above) but I have to say, it’s been a long time since I was so engrossed in a book that its ‘inner world’ seemed like a constant presence – one that I was both dying to get back to and yet whose story I was desperate to end. What book can you say last did that to you?