Monday 10 June 2013

Monday Musings: On Being Spoiled, and Reviewing Difficulties

I'm a huge fan of Game of Thrones and am devouring the TV series - I haven't actually read the books yet, simply because I have no patience and given the speed at which they're being published I'd rather wait until all of them are available and set aside a month or so to get through them!

Many of the people I follow on Twitter are also huge Game of Thrones fans, so my timeline exploded on Sunday night as I kept seeing messages along the lines of "ARGH! Can't believe that just happened in #GoT!" However, since everyone I follow on Twitter is an awesome and thoughtful person, the tweets I read were blessedly free of any specific spoilers.

I know that not everyone was this lucky - and over here in the UK, we had an added problem as free newspaper Metro decided to plaster a huge picture of the climactic scene on page 3, along with a headline and story that gave away major details of the episode just 30 hours or so after it had aired on Sky Atlantic, without any spoiler warning. I'd seen the episode on Tuesday night (thank you Sky+!), and thankfully several kind people took to Twitter to tell fans to avoid that page until after the episode (or even better, avoid the entire paper completely for good!), but would have been extremely annoyed if it had caught me by surprise.

It did get me thinking "What's so bad about spoilers?" I’ve seen the point of view expressed before that if a spoiler stops you enjoying a novel, movie or TV programme, it must be a sign that the thing in questions wasn’t that good to begin with. I can see where people who hold this opinion are coming from – the best novels definitely hold up to multiple readings – but I’d strongly disagree.

Yes, really good books and movies, and the like, can be read/seen/etc more than once (I think my record is perhaps 10 times for watching Casablanca and a dozen times each for reading The Great Gatsby and Three Men In A Boat.) The experience in reading or watching something without knowing what happens, though, is completely different from the one you get when you do know. Is it a better experience? That depends, to be honest. I think Hayley Long’s What’s Up With Jody Barton?, for example, is one example of a story that’s a better read the second time around when you can fully appreciate just how clever a book it is.

The key thing, though, is choice. I chose to read Jody Barton again almost immediately after I'd finished it because I wanted to see what it was like knowing everything about the book. What really frustrates me about spoilers is they take away that choice - once you’ve seen them, there’s no way you can ever get that 'unspoiled' experience for that book. If you think the book's better when you know what's happening, that's fine - you can always reread it again. But if the magic lay at least partly in not knowing what's coming - and for me, it usually does - that's one experience you just can't have for that book. (Or film, TV series, or whatever else.)

Of course, because I get so upset about spoilers myself, I try my hardest to avoid giving anything important away when reviewing a book. Sometimes - particularly in cases like You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett and The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. They're two of my favourites of the year so far but I think both are best read knowing as little as possible about them. This leads to me having to say things like "I've tried about sixteen different ways of describing this one, but any comparison I make - except perhaps for The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald - clearly a major influence - seems to be too close to giving something away" about Rindell's Jazz Age tale. Is that enough to get someone interested? I'm not sure - part of me thinks I should risk spoiling it at least slightly (most other reviews have gone into significantly more details that I have) in order to make a stronger recommendation, but I was so enchanted by it that I can't bring myself to stop anyone else from having that same experience.

As a general rule, when reviewing, I try to give away less than the first 20% of the book, and less than the blurb. That does occasionally get broken - The Girl Savage by Katherine Rundell was one such as the story doesn't really seem to get started until halfway through. All in all, though, I think it's generally a good enough point to provide enough information without damaging people's enjoyment too much.

What do you think? Do you get annoyed by spoilers? How do you deal with spoilers when you're reviewing? Feel free to comment.

Just, PLEASE, don't spoil anything for people who haven't read/seen it!

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