There is a conversation going on at Book Chase about readers who like to flip to the end of a novel to find out what happens versus those who prefer to be held in suspense until the end. The latter definitely dominate the litblogosphere, to the point where there is an unwritten rule that the endings of books, even classics, are not to be revealed. The only way out of this stricture is to prominently post spoiler alerts, and risk having your post ignored by anyone who is reading or planning to read the book in question. This is such a universal point of netiquette that even Wikipedia did it right after the last Harry Potter book was released.
This idea that a book is “spoiled” if the ending is known bothers me. I enjoy a good plot twist as much as the next person, but to me a book should have a lot more going for it than an exciting plot. The point of reading a novel shouldn’t be just to find out “what happens,” but to find out what the author is trying to convey though plot, setting, characterization, diction, imagery, and everything else that goes into a story. If knowing the end makes a book less enjoyable, then it probably wasn’t a very good book to begin with.
Case in point: Daniel Deronda. I know how it ends. I’ve seen the BBC adaptation umpteen times (it’s one of my favourites). Far from spoiling the book, knowing how it ends is adding to my enjoyment of it. I am able to pick up on all the foreshadowing that I’m certain I would have missed otherwise. Even though I know the ending I am still in suspense about exactly how Eliot is going to get me there, and how she is getting me there is far more interesting than the bare plot outline. It’s impossible to say whether I’m enjoying my first reading of Daniel Deronda more than if I hadn’t know the plot, but it’s hard to imagine enjoying it more while being in the dark about where it’s going. Suspense is fun, but minor fun compared to the other pleasures of a masterfully crafted novel.
Another case in point, which many of you will be familiar with: Pride and Prejudice. I’ve read it many times, and I seem to enjoy it more each time. I pick up on more details, and grow more and more amazed at Austen’s skills. A person who only read it once, enjoyed the happy ending, and then moved on, would be missing most of what the book has to offer. Life is short; why read books that aren’t good enough to reward multiple readings?
The unhappy consequence of the notion of spoilers is that it prevents us from writing anything substantial about the novels we read. We are limited to giving hints and tastes and previews, never a full discussion of an entire book. The blogosphere gives us a place to take our reading public, and then tells us that we can’t talk about anything beyond chapter 1. How perverse! Why do we tolerate it? I say, let’s spill the beans!