Think about it? How many times have you ditched a book simply because the combination of factors that come together to make a read a good one, just haven't grabbed you? What is the elusive recipe for keeping a reader involved and willing to invest their time in a book?
For me, it comes down to a couple of things.
- EMPATHY: Do I connect with the characters/protagonist? Am I given reason to feel for them? Are they distinctive and real? Am I immediately drawn into their physical and emotional world and provided with reason to empathise with them?
- UNIQUE AND/OR SKILLED LANGUAGE USAGE: Is there something special about the writing style? Has the author shown some skill in playing with the language techniques available to them? This can be as simple as varying the length of sentences to create a feeling of drama or it might be an evocative use of imagery, or perhaps, the story is narrated through a unique and memorable voice.
- GETS ME WONDERING WHAT, WHY, HOW?: Does it offer up unanswered questions? Nothing hooks me like wanting to know WHY and HOW.
- STRUCTURE: While writing should avoid being too formulaic, I do like opening chapters to proceed in a logical fashion, with ideas and characters being developed at an appropriate pace, as I, the reader develop a relationship with them.
So, with that in mind, I thought I'd regularly post my INITIAL responses to some of the books I read. At no further than 20% in, I'll pause and comment on 3, maybe 4 things:
- What I like so far?
- What detracts from drawing me in?
- Any particularly memorable quotes.
- And, any comparisons/connections I make with the author, style, setting etc.
First Impressions... The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
- The opening sentences: "My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." I like how the alliterative 's' makes the character's name memorable. The use of past tense also raises a whole heap of questions, like: How can she be speaking if she's dead? How did she die?
- Descriptive language: Sebold is able to create a strong emotional appeal without wasting words: "My mother made a sound and reached out her hand. The sound was a metallic squeak, a human-as-machine breaking down, uttering last sounds before the whole engine locks."
- Emotional distance: So far, I haven't connected with any of the characters. I feel a distance between them and me. There's brush-strokes, but an incomplete image of the characters in my mind and understanding of them.
- See above
The Lovely Bones reminds me a little of Emma Donoghue's Room (also available HERE at The Book Depository). Both deal with the after-effects of a horrific crime and both authors have used a unique narrative voice. Donoghue's Room, however, was more effective at getting me to emotionally connect with the characters; indeed, at times it was like I knew them, rather than simply observing them as creations made up of words.
So, that's it for my first impressions of The Lovely Bones.
Now, some questions for you....
Think about some of YOUR first impressions of a text, be it a book or a film. Did it grab YOU or let you go?
Have you ever persevered, despite a slow or weak start, only to be rewarded as the story continued?