Thursday, 9 July 2009

Jodi Picoult

I have recently finished reading The Tenth Circle, by Jodi Picoult. It was the seventh book that I have read by this author, and I fear that now I have read too many. The magic is wearing off; she no longer has the power to shock me, and that is a great disappointment.

The first of her books that I read was My Sister's Keeper, a Richard and Judy Book Club book, and now a film. I found myself hooked, intrigued, fascinated, unable to see how the situation - a teenage girl suing her parents for the right to refuse donations that would keep her sister alive - could possibly be resolved. It was a page-turner in the true sense of the word; I don't think I took more than a day or two to read it. When the novel started to draw to a close, Picoult succeeded in shocking me with the daughter's revelation, and shocking me again at the very end of the novel with an unforeseen turn of events.

A little later, I read Vanishing Acts. This time, it was a man being tried for the kidnap of his own daughter, who was now an adult and one of the narrators of the story. Again, when his reasons for doing so came out, they came, it seemed, out of nowhere, though there were unsuspected clues scattered throughout the narrative, so no one could accuse Picoult of cheating by withholding information.

The next book was Plain Truth. This time it was an investigation into the death of a newborn baby, but in an Amish community, and again a book that was hard to put down, but now I was starting to see aspects of the plot that seemed a little formulaic. I suspected that Picoult would surprise us once again with an unexpected twist - only, now I was expecting it, I just didn't know what that would be.

As a reader of mysteries - for each of Picoult's novels is a mystery, along with many other things - I like to try to be a step ahead. I read whodunnits as though I were playing Cluedo, attempting to work out the answer before anyone else (in the case of a book, the detective) before looking in the pack and having my answers confirmed. I usually fail. But when I found myself becoming more and more successful when reading Picoult's novels, I started to feel disappointed and dissatisfied. I realised I wanted the writer to be cleverer than me. I wanted to be surprise.

I've read seven of Jodi Picoult's books and found that as I became more familiar with her writing, the more I could work out for myself:

My Sister's Keeper - shocked
Vanishing Acts - shocked
Plain Truth - knew something was coming, didn't know what.
Second Glance - predicted certain elements of the plot
Nineteen Minutes - predicted certain elements
Salem Falls - suspected final surprise twist.
The Tenth Circle - knew final surprise twist.

Don't get me wrong, I am very impressed with Picoult's skills as a writer. She does incredible amounts of research into topics that are not mainstream or overused, giving us a full idea of a culture, belief or even scientific theory that has not been much written about, giving the impression that each one is her specific area of expertise (as I suppose it is, for the period of writing the novel.) She knows how to make us care about the characters, challenge our worldviews and want to know what happens.

However, though I can devour one of her 400-page novels in a single evening, I find myself becoming less impressed with her storytelling style. There is always a shocking twist at the end, but after having read seven of her books, I know that there is a surprise in store - therefore it is not a surprise. Now, I'm picking up on those clues that are supposed to lead the reader to a certain red-herring conclusion - but I'm learning how to look at those clues in another way, so I can deduce the other and true explanation that is intended to come as a shock in the last few pages. Now, Picoult is very clever at hiding those clues, and setting red herrings. Unfortunately, though I wouldn't presume to say I am cleverer still, but I have read enough of her work that I have learned how to find them.

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