As usual, I’ve been on the lookout for good Christian fiction, and picked up several new books recently. They have all been disappointing and I can’t recommend them. Four of them I couldn’t finish, one I skipped most of the middle.
There was also a secular book that I was very much looking forward to reading. Given the author, I expected it to be funny, fast-paced and insightful. But I almost threw it across the room.
So what was wrong with them? Maybe we can learn from other’s mistakes.
- Unattractive characters: people that I would not like to know in real life. Doormat mothers, husbands absent in spirit if not in body, drug-obsessed teenagers who treat people with contempt and are rapists in the making. Characters the author clearly doesn’t like – even hates – and so how can the reader sympathise with them?
- Lack of conflict. A good story, pleasant characters, well-written, but no dilemmas or sense of jeopardy. Very event-driven, the protagonist acts reactively almost all the time and doesn’t fight back. No twists in the plot, no risks, no climax to the story, no nail-biting exciting and satisfying moment of “will he, won’t he – yes! He has!”
- Lack of editing. This surprised me, especially in a book by an author who has got several other published books. Within three pages there was a misplaced comma, in many places I noticed missing words and the formatting was odd, unconventional and inconsistent, and very distracting as a result.
- Boring repetition. A story where the main character has a dilemma but it gets repeated so often that I found myself thinking – yes, I know, he’s trying to escape from …. but can we please get on with the plot?
- The trope of continual hints about some previous horror or mystery or dire event in the protagonist’s or other character’s past. So you have to wade through all the chapters to find out the awful fact. This is getting too familiar. If uncovering the past is part of the main character’s story (as in ‘Behind the Scenes in the Museum’ by Kate Atkinson) then all well and good, but it shouldn’t be used as a hook to get the reader to finish what would otherwise be a very dull book.
- A genre that I don’t like much: a thriller. I can’t blame the author for this, and it was a well-written book. This is my fault: I should be prepared to read and recommend books in other genres.
Of course, I could be just as guilty of these mistakes. And I have probably got other mistakes, equally disastrous, in my own books.
On the plus side, a secular book that I very strongly recommend is ‘All the light we cannot see’ by Anthony Doerr. Beautiful, haunting, superbly researched. I know it is ‘yet another book about the second world war’ but it is different. It also has very short chapters. This might seem an odd recommendation, but when reading in bed and getting sleepy there’s something very daunting about looking ahead and seeing that there are fifteen pages to go before the end of the chapter…
So – have I found any new good British Christian fiction?
The answer is …