One of the greatest compliments I can a writer, is…
How did he (or she) think THAT up?
Two of my favorite writers are Charles Williams (a friend and writing club member with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis), and Colin Wilson. Both of these writers were able to create story-lines which were manifestly different from anything before (or since) in literature. In one of the 7 novels Williams wrote he has ghosts taking London apart backwards in time. Wilson writes of the collective unconscious of man being like an ocean in which things other than the minds of men swim.
These are amazing concepts, and they go so far beyond the “normal” craft of writing as to be unique.
So many of the books I read these days do little more than tell tried and true stories in slightly different settings. Yes, these can be entertaining, and yes, they can certainly sell. The reading public tends to go back to the same authors, often writing about the same characters, and even telling the same stories over again, because they are often comfortable with what they know.
Not all readers want to be surprised. Not all readers want to be made to work out the details.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a strong market for the powerfully different novel, but I wonder if it is really as strong a market as the avant-garde writers hope it is?
I love books that push the limits. The last thing I want out of a novel is something so predictable as to never surprise me at all.
In most cases, though, even the surprising novels do not surprise because of highly refined originality. Rather they surprise because the writer played opposites, or table-turning. When you read such a book you are never forced to wonder how the idea came to be. It is clearly a twist of old thinking. Entertaining, perhaps, but not startling intellectually.
When you hear a new idea that is so fresh that you cannot even make up a path for the birth of it, that is something special.
Do you have a book or an author that constantly surprises you? Is so, are those surprises the effect of randomizing known bits, or are they formed by the creation of truly startling ideas?