On the backwards book

Last week I started, and subsequently put down, a potentially very interesting novel.  The October List by Jeffrey Deaver is unique, as far as I know, in that it tells the story backwards.

The October List by Jeffrey Deaver

When you open the book you find yourself in Chapter 36.  Every subsequent chapter is set a little earlier in the story and it finally ends, with what I’m told is a tremendous twist, at Chapter 1.  The author’s note, acknowledgements and title page are right at the back of the book.

The idea of writing (and reading) a story this way is intriguing and I picked it up with a fair amount of excitement.  But I don’t think Mr Deaver’s writing style agrees with me.  First, there’s the commas; oh, so many commas.  I found myself pausing more than I was reading.  Then there’s the adjectives and adverbs, sometimes strung together three in a row.  Sentences without verbs.  Several of them in one paragraph.  And stunted.  Dialogue.  And in just the first (or is that last) chapter I caught him telling several times rather than showing.

But I soldiered on, because I want to see how this book works (or if it works).  Then, on page 17, he referred to a fluorescent light as a “tubular bulb”, making me reach for my dictionary to check on the definition of “bulb” (FYI, it means round, i.e., not “tubular”, which means cylindrical).  I spent a few minutes pondering this pairing before continuing, but finally threw in the towel when, a few paragraphs later, he referred for the second time in two pages to the bad guy’s curly golden hair.

In fact, he seems to find it very important that we know how the characters look.  And sure, description is necessary, but referring to “coiffed Andrew…balding Sam”?  Especially as the status of their respective scalps had already been established on the previous page (and in Sam’s case in the last (first) chapter as well)?

I might have continued in spite of all this.  The only other Jeffrey Deaver I’ve read, Carte Blanche, was decent enough, after all, so it could very well improve as it goes on.  But I had just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (review on the way) which is a bit of a heavy read and I wasn’t in the mood for a book that was going to make me work to read it.  So I put it down.

I’ll probably give it another try later (I mean, it IS a backwards book, for crying out loud), but only when I again have the mental fortitude to deal with “tubular bulbs” and “glistening golden curly hair [which] dangle[s] to mid-ear” (because that’s what you’re going to focus on when a guy barges into your hotel room and points a gun at you:  his hairstyle!)

7 thoughts on “On the backwards book

  1. “Sounds like a challenge,” he says while rubbing the numerous wrinkles on the forehead of his head which is covered in wavy pomaded locks that have the appearance of an asphalt road in the rain. Whew.


  2. Interesting this, had’t heard of the book. I actually enjoyed Deaver in the past but must confess to only reading his Lincoln Rhymes series. I might also give it a go but by the sound of it, I’ll wait until I have some time on my hands.


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