Thoughts of Categorizing Novels

I just recently finished reading In the Woods by Tana French, a lovely novel that had me hooked almost from the moment I opened the book, and I was certainly hooked as soon as the protagonist/narrator declared, “I lie.” The basic premise of the novel is this: Tom Ryan, Scottish cop, and his partner are called to investigate the murder of a little girl. The twist? Her body is found the woods of Ryan’s hometown, the place where his two childhood best friends disappeared, and he was found with his fingernails imbedded in a tree, and someone else’s blood pooling in his shoes. French does an excellent job of painting a portrait of a man who is both confused (he can’t remember any of his childhood prior to going to boarding school a few months after being found) and determined to find a killer. Ryan is tortured by his past, which gravely impacts his handing of the case. All in all, this novel is a wonderful physiological study, though I wouldn’t call it a thriller.

Since graduating, I’ve taken to reading reviews posted by general readers on amazon.com to have a sounding off point for my own ideas about the novel. To my great surprise, most people found the novel good, but found the ending quite unsatisfying. After thinking about their comments, I decided this feeling of disappoint, of having untied threads, was largely due to the fact the novel was frequently presented as a mystery. Naturally, one of the main conventions of a mystery is that everything is tied up neatly – essentially, we know “who done it.” My copy of the novel, checked out from my local library, was located in the mystery section; it even had a special mystery sticker on it. Yet, the cover jacket clearly denotes the book as a novel, which carries a different set of expectations for the reader. All in all, I found the novel interesting, compelling, and wonderfully descriptive, and it opened my eyes to the importance of “placing a novel in the right category” (this is not quite what I mean, but I’m not sure how to say what I mean) to its general reception and the perception of its “goodness.”

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One Response

  1. I guess it’s true:
    you can’t judge a book
    by its cover.

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