Well that’s pissed me off…


So I’m half-way through Jonathan Grimwood’s The Last Banquet. It’s fluff, dressed up in a pre-revolutionary French costume. I’m loving it.

And then I read a particular review (which I will not name*). The review is jam-packed with spoilers. In fact, the ‘review’ is essentially a retelling of the entire book with a few flimsy thoughts on style tacked on the end. It is a supremely lazy review and I’m cross with myself for having read it. But it did get me thinking – what do I want in a book review?

As far as the plot goes, I only need to know what’s in the book blurb – after all, blurbs are usually carefully crafted to tell readers enough information to interest them but not enough to give the story away. Sure, reword the blurb in your review but don’t go much beyond that, because that is called a spoiler.

What I really want are some insights – what elements of the book you enjoyed or alternatively, what you didn’t like. I want comparisons to other authors, books,  films or whatevers – if someone tells me a book is similar to anything by John Irving, I’m going to read it. Equally, if they tell me it filled their minds-eye like their favourite Hockney painting (for future reference, mine is Mount Fuji and Flowers), that’s also good. To this end, a few choice quotes from the book don’t go astray – give me a feel for the style.

If a book makes you feel as happy as a spring lamb, tell me. Because I want to feel as happy as a spring lamb too.

If a book made you feel uncomfortable, depressed or you just didn’t like it, tell me, tell me why. Check out this review of Sisterland for its brilliant, but nonetheless negative take on Sittenfeld’s latest – how good is that review?! It tells you so much about the book but not about the story. Even Sittenfeld loved it.


So, did I put the cranky-pants on this morning? Am I over-reacting because one careless reviewer spoiled my fun? What do you want in a review? What’s your position on spoilers?

*It’s not fair to pick on this particular review when there are loads of reviews with spoilers published constantly. But today, I snapped.


15 responses

  1. “If a book makes you feel as happy as a spring lamb, tell me. Because I want to feel as happy as a spring lamb too.”

    I’m going to use this someday because it is excellent. I do get irritable about spoiler reviews. If you HAVE to spoil a book, put a clear warning at the beginning so I know not to read it.

    • There’s obviously not a right or a wrong way to write a review – I’m influenced by the kind of reviews I like to read (which tend to be quite personal – I want to know what someone recognised in a book, what was important to them). If I find I’m retelling the story I simply pull back and ask myself what I did or didn’t like about the book. Alternatively, I write in a completely different style (for example I did a visual review of Rules of Civility by Amor Towles and a dot point review of The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig – I hope that with both of those reviews, readers of my blog could recognise what I found interesting in those books).

  2. I think putting ‘spoiler alert’ at the top of a review that gives away significant details is a good idea…I guess I can see reasons to do so…for example when drawing attention to an event or crisis in the story that is characteristic of the author or genre…and you want to comment if they’ve done so particularly well.

    I think I usually give away generic information about the topic…and hint at the significance of events. In the case of a biography or memoir I would likely give more detail because often people know about the lives of the particular person anyway! Or, to give a potential reader a sense of whether they’d be interested in the book based on a topic…..

    O.k…thanks for the reminders….off to edit old posts if I need too….perhaps to add a few ‘spoiler alert’ headings!
    Thanks for the post which was food for thought… J.K.S.

  3. Any spoilers should be marked. Period.

    Where it gets tricky is what one person thinks is a spoiler someone else might not, but I’d always err on the side of caution. Why would you want to ruin someone else’s experience of the book? Of course, I’ve also come across reviewers who are like, “I only include spoilers if it’s a terrible book you shouldn’t read anyway,” which infuriates me, because who are you to make that decision for me?

  4. I also think the line between review and literary criticism has become blurred. I know I’ve written one or two reviews that are probably closer to literary criticism and if your criticism focuses mainly on the plot it gets very hard not to include spoilers. But then I make a point to include a clear spoiler warning before any spoilers appear. I even insert a page break before potential spoilers so you’ll have to click through to see them.

    JKS mentions biographies and memoirs, but I’d like to qualify that with saying biographies and memoirs of famous people. There are more and more memoirs coming out of people who aren’t necessarily known, but who have an interesting story to tell and a well-written memoir is written as entertaining as any fiction, so no spoilers please.

    For other types of non-fiction I don’t mind spoilers. In fact, any discussion more detailed than the blurp will just help me decide whether it’s worth reading the book or not.

    • Totally agree about non-fiction.

      The new breed of memoirs and ‘fictionalised’ biographies is interesting – two spring to mind (Loving Frank by Nancy Horan and Z by Therese Fowler) – most people wouldn’t know much about these people’s lives and a badly written review could have given away so much. In fact, I read one review of Loving Frank that revealed what happens in the last few pages – seriously. As you mentioned, it’s easy to provide a spoiler alert and also to put a page break.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Hi there–I’m visiting from Suzie’s blog–
    I agree that spoilers don’t have a place in most reviews–even a “Spoiler Alert” signal can be an unnecessary temptation! I enjoy reviews that give me enough of the plot so I can tell if it’s a story that I want to pursue–but I can read that on the book jacket. I mainly want to know what the reviewer thought about the writer’s craft. Did the story flow? Does the dialog ring true? Does the plot make sense? Details like those are the ones that help me decide if I want to invest time in a new book.

    • Thanks for visiting!

      It’s funny that you mention a ‘spoiler alert’ can be tempting. I have a friend that ALWAYS reads spoilers AND reads the last few pages of the book when she’s a couple of chapters in – I don’t get that at all!

      Same as you, I want to know about style and the reader’s impressions.

  6. I completely agree that reviews shouldn’t spoil books– when you accidentally read a spoiler you spend the whole book waiting for the moment you read about to happen, which is no fun. When I review I do talk about themes and relationships, maybe some symbolism, and I’m never sure whether that counts as spoiling it or not– maybe people want to discover those things on their own first, yet at the same time those are often my favorite things about the book. Your post has definitely made me think about being more vigilant about including spoilers and such– great thoughts!

    • I don’t think talking about themes in a review is spoiling the story – they are the kind of things I like to read about, particularly as often people see different things in the same text. In fact, it’s why I often read reviews of books that I’m halfway through – I like to know if others picked out different threads of the story that I may of missed (which is how I came to be reading the review that prompted this post in the first place!).

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