A photo I took in Venice many years ago.
Among the novels I like are ones that go in unexpected directions. Readers think they have an approximate idea of what will happen, but the authors have other ideas. 🙂
That was certainly the case with Miss Garnet’s Angel, the Salley Vickers novel I just read. It stars a lonely, reserved, socially awkward, middle-aged Englishwoman who, after the death of her housing mate, decides to throw caution to the wind for once in her life and spend six months in beautiful Venice.
With a scenario like that, one expects the protagonist to be quite likable. But Julia Garnet is not particularly likable.
We also expect Julia to find romance in romantic Venice. She sort of does, for a while, but things go sour in a highly unpredictable way.
Add a weird, ancient, quasi-religious parallel story, and Miss Garnet’s Angel turns out to be far from clichéd. (Though I guess the “Angel” in the title offered a clue to the quasi-religious content.)
Other novels with different content than one might expect? Of course, authors of mysteries and detective stories can be masters of misdirection — throwing out red herrings and such. But more general literature might surprise us as well. Here are some examples:
When one prepares to read Herman Melville’s epic Moby-Dick, total seriousness and gravitas would appear to be on the menu. Then, before the Captain Ahab-helmed Pequod sets sail on its fateful voyage, we’re treated to a hilarious room-in-an-inn scene involving Ishmael and Queequeg.
If you were told before starting George Eliot’s 1799-set Adam Bede that a major character would be a preacher, you wouldn’t bat an eyelash. But the preacher turns out to be a woman (Dinah Morris) — hardly typical for the patriarchal 18th century.
Two characters are attracted to each other in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Life and their marriages to other people get in the way. Years later, they have the opportunity to meet again in more favorable circumstances. The decision one of them makes kind of floored me.
We expect the unexpected in John Irving’s quirky novels. Still, the scene involving a baseball in A Prayer for Owen Meany? Didn’t expect THAT.
Early in Robertson Davies’ Murther & Walking Spirits, the protagonist is killed by his wife’s lover. It would be an understatement to say I didn’t anticipate the victim spending his afterlife as a ghost at a very personal film festival.
A Jewish Eskimo is among the cast in another novel by a Canadian author, Mordecai Richler’s Solomon Gursky Was Here. Not the most probable secondary character.
In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, we are led to believe that one particular protagonist will die and another will survive. But….
Some novels you’ve read that contained unexpected elements?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — which has a local high-school softball theme — is here.