That didn’t work very well, did it? Two posts on 1st January and none on the second. I’m not sure what happened there, I thought I’d written one.
It seems that I’m going to quit the habit of thirty-five years. The radio soap, The Archers, reached its sixtieth anniversary at the weekend, and so a dramatic plot development was promised. The likely problem was a deeply annoying character named Helen, who was pregnant and obviously riding for a fall – the thing was though that her brother died in a farming accident some years ago and there is already a child in the family whose mother has died, so this made it unlikely they’d be able to bump her off. So instead, she was rushed to hospital for an emergency Caesarean, immediately following which she’s fine and the baby is fine. Oh. So instead, they seem to have killed off the most engaging character in the whole programme. The one with a markedly happy marriage, who is daft but not irritating, who would genuinely be missed by listeners; unlike almost everyone else. It is possible that falling off a roof might have crippled rather than killed him, but do you know, I don’t care. I’m not listening tonight to find out.
It’s been apparent to me for some time that I’m fed up with plot devices. I’ve almost given up reading fiction – new fiction, that is. I’m still rereading classics with pleasure, but I’ve been disappointed too many times by too many new books. I don’t mind the fairly throwaway novels without pretensions, but the ‘literary’ sort are too often lazily plotted and either have random plot twists, obvious manipulations or else just end. A book has to be really good to get away without an ending. Not necessarily all the loose ends tied up – it can work, to have you wondering what happens afterwards and life isn’t neat – but there usually has to have been some point to the whole thing or else it’s a waste of time. And you’ve got to care about the characters. Not necessarily to like them, but to find them believable and to be engaged in what happens to them.
I’m really sad about this. I’ve been an obsessive reader all my life, and now I’m almost entirely reading non-fiction, and much less of that. And I’m not unusual in any other way, so I suspect I’m not alone. And authors won’t blame themselves, they’ll say that readers are failing them. But if a book is good enough, I’ll be as gripped as ever. Ebooks are doing people a favour – because out-of-copyright fiction is free to download, there’s been a big surge of interest in the classics. I’m reading my way through Dickens at the moment. Usually, under the bedclothes in the middle of the night. It’s excellent, not having to have the light on or arms out of bed on a winter’s night.
And, as far as The Archers is concerned, it’s not a fit of pique. It’s that there are too few people now that I give a damn about. Most of the older characters are boring and most of the young ones are annoying. The ones I like have been almost written out and the new main ones don’t engage me. A cliffhanger with Helen might have kept me listening – pre-eclampsia isn’t always immediately resolved by the baby’s delivery, the baby is six weeks premature and she was warned a few weeks ago that it wasn’t developing properly because of her overworking. But they went down the cosily reassuring route there, to the disappointment of many people who are as irked by Helen as I am. So, it’s easy. I am not going to be manipulated, I’ve just switched off.