Ruining my Reading

The House of Silk, a modern Sherlock Holmes novel, reminded me of a truth that I often forget with narrative art; that audience expectations massively alter what is permissible to a writer. Before I continue, I’d like to say that I did enjoy this novel, and I finished reading it with a new appreciation for Doyle’s work.

The third chapter in the House of Silk is almost entirely composed of a man telling Holmes a mystery. Literally, a man tells the reader almost a novel’s worth of story. Anyone who has read writing advice would spot this as a problem, writers are told to show their story, not tell it, yet it functions perfectly within the story’s context. Readers expect a large amount of exposition within a Holmes story, as a detailed understanding of events and the characters involved is necessary to piece together a mystery. In many ways, the reader is occupying the same space as Holmes, hearing of the events rather than seeing them, minus the extraordinary insight of the famous detective.

The character of Watson is also quite peculiar, for someone who’s not well-versed in Sherlock Holmes. As I read this novel, I found Watson to be pathetic, like a teen girl fawning over some mediocre pop singer, and I could’ve read the novel, assuming that it was half detective story, half character study of the sycophant. I maintain that reading the novel in that way is still possible and enjoyable, but I realised that after a quarter of the book, that I could enjoy the book in the way the writer intended, if I could overcome the standard cynicism ingrained in me by writing for a long time.

Still, the strangest moment was when Moriarty made a brief appearance in this story. His speech, his conception of himself as some form of philosopher criminal, made me laugh for a good minute or two. I found it so ridiculous as to almost ruin that segment of the novel. I put the book down for a few minutes and thought. I found that this speech was no worse than other conventions in fiction, for instance, it’s certainly no more ridiculous than certain Shakespeare monologues, which continue for page after page. My laughter was justified in the sense that I found it funny, therefore I laughed, but when considering whether this should mark the novel as bad in my opinion, I decided it shouldn’t.

That’s the biggest lesson I took from this read. To this date I’ve had my reading experience totally destroyed with certain books, when they exhibit some of the conventions or clichés common within their genre. That’d include every book that could broadly be considered to be in the romance genre, most action books, most crime books, and every literary novel that begins with an unlikeable and sexual exploitative male character, which is a substantial amount. I don’t know if other readers have this problem, or consider it to be a problem, but it is something I will seek to overcome, and hopefully I can experience a wider world of literature. I’ll try to be less fussy in future.

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