'Everything Love Is' and the contract between writer and reader, by Ali Bacon

Freebie alert! Anyone who comments on this post from August 22nd - 24th 2016 will be entered into a draw for a free copy of Everything Love Is, the new novel by Claire King published by Bloomsbury, July 2016

I ran into author Claire King a few years ago on Twitter when her novel Night Rainbow (which I really enjoyed) was accepted by an agent and then a publisher. Since then Claire has not only had her second novel published but also moved from France to Gloucestershire, and so on a  sunny Saturday in July, I met her at her book signing in Stroud (complete with luscious macarons) and came home to bury myself in Everything Love Is.

As expected the writing was gorgeous and the opening had a hint of intrigue in the narrative voice. Fifty pages in I wasn’t so sure. The main character, Baptiste, a therapist who lives on a canal, was lovely and I wanted to know what was happening to him. But what was happening? The second voice (or was it more than one?) was still perplexing me. Who was Chouette, the owl to Baptiste’s kingfisher? Just when I thought I had worked it out – tada! – I was proved completely wrong.  I considered throwing my lovely new book across the room, but chose the alternative course of looking up reviews, not because I wanted the plot explained, but just to see if I was the only stupid person out there. Apparently not (phew!) - others had also struggled with the opening -  so I took a deep breath and carried on.

In the end I loved it too and you can read my review here. But it was a very close thing and made me think about the bond of trust that’s formed between writer and reader and how far it can be stretched.
Remember that book from the 70s. I’m okay, You’re okay?  - a mantra which sums up the ideal working relationship. I think it also applies to reader and writer. A good writer inspires confidence – we want to feel safe – okay -  in their hands.  We also want to feel a bit flattered by being allowed to work things out for ourselves and not have everything spelled out. That makes both of us okay – oh that’s clever and so am I. But what if we can’t work it out? That leaves us with two options, either a) the writer has messed up or b) I am dim. Either way that bond of trust is broken. From page 50 (my usual giving up point) to page 90 or thereabouts, when I began to see the light, things were not okay between me and this author!

In fact there is a very good reason for the confusion that reigns in the first third of this book but just to satisfy the part of me that nearly threw the book away, I went back to ask Claire a few questions.

Ali: Hi Claire - did you always intend the structure to be as it is and had you chosen the voice of Chouette from the start?’
Claire: Hi Ali – no! My first draft of the book was in first person, with only Baptiste narrating. This was a style that worked well in The Night Rainbow because whilst Pea [five-year-old narrator] was a naive narrator, the adult reader could infer the wider story from what she saw and heard. But in Baptiste's case, because of the nature of his story, that wasn't a workable approach. In my second draft I switched to third person point of view, but it felt flat and expositional.
Ali:  So then you chose Chouette?
Claire: Yes, eventually I settled on the dual narration, switching between chapters. It became clear that not only did this work for telling Baptiste's story, but that the story was in fact just as much Chouette's as it was his. And that was, for me, the moment when it started to become a real story about love.
Ali: I can see that dual narration gives the book a great dynamic and I suppose it would lose something if we knew the identity of Chouette from the outset. But did you realise you would be giving your readers a bit of a headache?
Claire: Once the manuscript was with Bloomsbury, I spent a long time working with my editor to refine the pacing and the balance between the two voices, particularly in the first part of the book. I know that what resulted asks the reader to live through some disorienting moments initially, and that that might risk putting some readers off early on, but I do think it is worth the risk, because I wanted to take readers on a journey that can't adequately be explained any other way.
Ali: I admit I’ve tried and failed to think how else you could have got the effect you wanted in this book, although it’s certainly a risk to leave the revelation so late.

So there we have it. Claire and I, I’m glad to say, are friends again, and I hope people do persevere with Everything Love Is as it’s a great read with many lovely stories entwined with those of Baptiste and Chouette.

Author and reader need to be friends!
So, the question for readers of this blog is, are there any great books you’ve felt like throwing across the room, and how long do you give the author before giving up?

Or if you're a writer, have you ever worried about how much of a risk you can take with your reader's patience or trust?  

Remember anyone who comments will be entered in the draw for a free copy of Claire's novel.

Many thanks to Claire for spilling the beans and to Bloomsbury for the free copy. 


Wendy H. Jones said…
It can be difficult when something unexpected happens leaving the reader confused and wondering what is going on. Also when the reader has invested in a particular chapter and then the character changes or turns out to be someone different. However, as a reader of crime fiction I am used to twists and turns. It sounds like Claire has handled it well.
AliB said…
She did Wendy, although it's not quite the same as a plot twist - you'll have to read it to find out ;)
Sherri said…
I still haven't forgiven Kate Atkinson for the ending of A God in Ruins - I won't go into it in detail in case others haven't read it yet - and I literally (really literally) threw the book across the room.
I am looking forward to reading Everything Love Is and will definitely persevere through any twists and turns!
Fascinating, Ali. I've just finished reading Booker longlisted His Bloody Project (published by my small, indie publisher, Saraband) and that has a central revelation that pretty much takes the reader's breath away. It isn't a plot twist, it's a deliberate shift in perspective, it's skilfully done, believable and deeply disturbing. But it always, always engaged me as a reader and not once did I even consider giving up - which was, I think, as much the result of the fine writing, the clarity, the characterisation, as the story. So I already trusted the writer by the time I came to the 'what? wait a minute?' moment and was happy to go along with him. (You can tell this is a book I admire!) I tend to give a book about 50 pages. if I'm not hooked in by then, if I'm bored or find the style clunky or inaccessible, I give up. I used to persevere but these days I think 'too many books I really want to read.' I don't mind difficulty, but as with all of us, some books are just 'not for me' and that's fine, because they usually are the right books for somebody else! I play the piano and often liken it to some pieces of music that just don't sit well under the hands. Nothing to do with difficulty either!
AliB said…
Hi Catherine - interesting! - must read HBP!didn't realise it was with Saraband) I agree with the fifty page rule but reasons to give up are usuallly because the writing/genre/scenario doesn't do it for me. this was not the case with Everything Love Is, more a feeling of being kept in the dark!
Anne Goodwin said…
Interesting conversation, Claire and Ali. I haven’t yet read Everything Love Is, though appreciate being prepared for this possible difficulty in the reading. I found something very similar with The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy; though it was less about being confused than thinking it wasn’t very authentic – until the reveal right at the end (maybe others grasped this earlier) when I realised it was (authentic and cleverly written).
AliB said…
Hi Anne. I haven't read Queenie because I wasn't entirely satisfied by Harold Fry. Now you've got me interested!

AliB said…
I should also say I'm quite an impatient reader and am unlikely to be the first to work things out!
angelaebrooks said…
I'm struggling with Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami. I have yet to feel any sympathy or liking for the characters so keep reading a bit then putting it down, going back to it again sometimes weeks later. Surprising as the author is one of my favourites. I feel unhappy if I don't read a book through, it feels disrespectful to the author!
angelaebrooks said…
I'm struggling with Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami. I have yet to feel any sympathy or liking for the characters so keep reading a bit then putting it down, going back to it again sometimes weeks later. Surprising as the author is one of my favourites. I feel unhappy if I don't read a book through, it feels disrespectful to the author!
Lee said…
I am commenting.
Unknown said…
Interesting! The original ending of my debut was completely different when I first started writing it. In the end I didn't take the risk with it - I thought it might upset readers and they'd never come back!
AliB said…
Well Angela, I've never even tackled Murakami so you are way ahead of me!
That sounds interesting Tara - looking forwRd to hearing more about it.
AliB said…
thanks for all your great comments. Claire has made the draw and the winner is - Wendy Jones.
Well done Wendy! I'll be in touch about getting the book to you.
Wendy H. Jones said…
How exciting. I'm looking forward to reading it

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