Judging a book by a random page
Publishing agent Kristin describes an evening’s entertainment when some literary friends read a random page of a book aloud and asked if the book should have been published and would an agent have represented the book based on that page. The game they played is a good test of writing. Some books grab me on page one, others take a while longer. Even when they’ve initially captured my interest, many books have passages, pages or even chapters where I start to question why I’m persevering.
This can happen for various reasons: I’m currently reading a book, a ‘new Sherlock Holmes novel’, but it doesn’t mesh with my memory of Sherlock Holmes in that the opening story should have been wrapped up with a pipe or two then the classic reveal, but no, the story has meandered off to open up another adventure. It’s probably going to be all linked together, but this is not how I remember Sherlock Holmes stories. Also, there have been a few discrepancies – I know I’m really pedantic when I pick up on these – where the writing reveals the author’s ignorance of the era in which the novel is set. So while this is probably a good novel throughout, it doesn’t mesh with my memory of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s style, and I wish people would invent their own stuff rather than recreating someone else’s work.
Contrast this with Snuff. I decided to reward all my recent hard work by reading Terry Pratchett’s Snuff. So far I would say that this is among his best if not his very best Discworld book to date. Every line is tight, delivered in the style of the best stand-up comedian telling a story. Nothing is wasted. Perhaps Pratchett’s affliction has resulted in more care being taken to ensure a quality read because I haven’t identified a single sentence that could be cut from the novel so far and I’m over 100 pages in. I am in awe. I’m thinking the only comparable read is Good Omens, co-written with Neil Gaiman and also one of my absolute favourite works.
It’s a hard ask to write so tightly throughout an entire book that every page is of such quality that an agent would represent an author based on that individual page. Maintaining that standard takes time and effort and redrafting. But the end result is breath-taking.
White Noise was originally a segment in early issues of DMF with the intention of collecting a combination of blogs and essays written by Nalini Haynes. This blog was originally published in Dark Matter issue 7, January 2012.