A blurb too far

” . . . strange, daring, and very moving. . . . The book is a rare and dazzling feat of art.” —George Saunders, The Paris Review Daily
“Disturbing, one-of-a-kind . . . “ —Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal
“Unforgettable. . . . An ambitious tour de force that demands the reader’s attention; those willing to follow along will be rewarded with a singular and haunting story.” Publishers Weekly 

If I had read Reservoir 13 without having heard anything about it, I would have loved it.  I would have appreciated the details of daily life in a small village in the Peak District. I would have enjoyed the way the novel tantalized me into thinking I was about get a clue about who abducted 13-year old Rebecca Shaw only to have my hopes dashed and later built back  up again. I would have relished the way McGregor gradually reveal the layers personality/foible/secrets of the numerous characters that move in and out to the story.

I think most of all, I would have appreciated the yearly, cyclical, rhythm of the book. I liked hearing about the condition of the cow parsley in the hedgerows, or the quality of the chestnut mast. I liked how McGregor repeated certain phrases each year–particularly his yearly observance of Mischief Night, Bonfire Night, and New Year’s Eve.

In fact, I don’t have any issue with the high praise the book received, I think that is probably deserved. What I do have a problem with is the praise that made me think that something unbelievable was going to happen. The George Saunders’ excerpt above may have been taken out of context, but I saw a lot of similar blurbs. That this was the book about an abduction that was going to surprise and amaze me. Well it didn’t. I feel like this book was click-baited to death. I’m a fan of Anita Brookner–I can handle slow. I like repetition in books. I don’t need a plot. I like authors who twist things on their sides. But McGregor’s twists are extremely subtle, and anyone who was led to believe they were going to be blown away are left wondering what the fuss was all about.

Dazzling, haunting, chilling, disturbing, one-of-a-kind? No. Just stop. I’m not going to click on you. Stop talking. Shut down the blurb factory.


15 thoughts on “A blurb too far

  1. travellinpenguin November 18, 2017 / 3:14 pm

    I have come to not expect anything by blurbs on books anymore. Like all the other media hype in the news. I am afraid publishers have embraced fake news in regard to their books. I hate that term.


    • Thomas November 23, 2017 / 11:06 pm

      I tend to not even read the blurbs on the books themselves, but for this one I think the lead up to the Booker shortlist made it impossible to avoid the hype.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Michelle Ann November 19, 2017 / 9:51 am

    I totally agree with you. I have had good books ruined by blurbs which foretell shocking exposés etc, which spoil the read, and which do not occur.


    • Thomas November 23, 2017 / 11:07 pm

      Oddly enough, I can usually forget the plot teasers by the time I am a chapter in, but the praise blurbs are harder to forget.


  3. Victoria Blake November 19, 2017 / 12:05 pm

    I completely agree. As a writer one can have a relatively sane experience of the publishing process until the blurb is written. Then everything goes a little weird.


    • Thomas November 23, 2017 / 11:08 pm

      Authors must be under such pressure to accept all sorts of marketing chicanery.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Elle November 19, 2017 / 1:24 pm

    I think if the book was being marketed to you as a “chilling” or “disturbing” “thriller”, then yes, that’s misleading. But I do think that Reservoir 13 is an utterly amazing book, precisely because it starts off with a premise that we think we know from all the thrillers we’ve read, and then proceeds to develop that premise in a very unexpected direction, taking its time, and spreading its focus. It’s one of the few books I can think of, for instance, that actually doesn’t have a narrating consciousness; it would be impossible to say who is telling us the story of Reservoir 13, other than perhaps the entire village—not the people of the village, but the place itself. To me, that’s a huge technical achievement, even more impressive because it’s so subtly done as to be almost unnoticeable, and it’s why I’m so pleased the book was on the shortlist for the Goldsmiths Prize. It doesn’t *look* like experimental fiction on the page, but actually, as far as innovation and mastery of technique goes, it’s a lot more experimental than Lincoln In the Bardo.

    (I know that I’m basically agreeing with you, since you say you enjoyed the book. I do agree that blurbs suggesting Reservoir 13 is a thriller or a book about an abduction have got entirely the wrong end of the stick; I’m just not sure that I read many that *did* suggest that. Most of the reviews I read acknowledged that the book starts off with an abduction, but then went on to talk about things like McGregor’s use of the seasons, repeated phrases, etc.—there weren’t many that made it sound like Gone Girl.)


    • Thomas November 23, 2017 / 11:12 pm

      I think part of my problem is that I don’t read many thrillers so I wasn’t as blown away by the fact that he broke out of what thriller readers might be waiting for.


      • Elle November 26, 2017 / 4:53 pm

        Ah yes, that makes sense too.


  5. Sarah Faragher November 21, 2017 / 1:45 pm

    “…I can handle slow. I like repetition in books. I don’t need a plot.” Amen, Thomas. I smile in recognition when I read that.


  6. Ruthiella November 21, 2017 / 4:33 pm

    Yeah, I hear you on the blurb front. But marketing is all about getting you to BUY the book, right? They don’t care if you like it once they have your money I guess.

    I have also been lead astray by blurbs written by favorite authors for books I have ended up not liking….I (stupidly) feel betrayed when that happens! How dare Kate Atkinson let me down like that! :)

    I do really want to read this book, however. I have wanted to try something by McGregor for a while.


    • Thomas November 23, 2017 / 11:14 pm

      Other authors are terrible when it comes to blurbs. Blurbs almost never sell me a book, often quite the opposite. But I know the general reading public probably follows that a bit more closely.


  7. Susan in TX November 22, 2017 / 11:45 am

    Yes and amen. Publishers are their own worst enemies.


    • Thomas November 23, 2017 / 11:15 pm

      I guess if they keep the books coming I won’t complain too much.


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