Well, this is odd.
Let me tell you about the book I've just finished reading. It's about one boy (let's just call him 'A') coming to terms with his relationship to another, 'B'; and when B is suddenly taken away from him, A chooses to assume his (B's) identity. The climax, in the closing pages, comes when A introduces himself to someone by B's name. There is an important drowning episode, and lots of walks to and fro across a causeway (which you can only cross to the other side when the tide is low). It is a wonderful book.
What is odd, is that by chance that's also an exact description of the previous book I read - drowning, identity-assuming, watery causeway and all.
Yes, while that's odd enough, of course if there are really only seven plots in the world you're bound to start overlapping. But more peculiar still, is that the boy whose identity is assumed at the end - B, that is - has the same name in the two books, and it's not a common name. (To give you an idea, while I'm familiar with the name I've never met anyone by that name in my life as far as I can recall.) So when A at the climax of the book introduces himself "I'm B", it's precisely the same.
[I'm not telling you the titles of the books or the names of the characters, as both books depend on your not knowing and I don't want to spoil it for you - but let me know if you've worked them out, of course...]
While these parallels are striking, they really are utterly different books - the key narrative, the setting, the tone and mood, the prose, all utterly different. (And one far superior to the other, I think, incidentally.) They're for different sorts of ages and different sorts of readers, and they're both pretty new so it can't be a case of one having read and been accidentally influenced by the other - and besides, as I say, they're altogether unlike each other in every way that matters. And since they're so different, it leads me to think about what are the elements that actually do define a book uniquely - given that my one-para description above would seem to tell you a lot about that book, and yet serves just as well to précy another that's in no way like it.
(It's often hard writing entries for the UBG trying to find a way of describing a book that's sufficiently particular that it couldn't be used to describe many others. Yes, this picture book has "Bright and bold illustrations.", but so do 75% of all picture books...)
Prose is either spare or rich or limpid or... In the plot there's a boy or a girl, or two, and they go to school or they don't there's family (probably) and friends (or just a best friend - or is our hero a loner?) and someone else either dies or doesn't and something funny might happen at some point; and the characters are well drawn and warm or they aren't and the whole thing probably makes you want to read on and find out what happens next, in this great/charming adventure-romance-comedy-spy-detective-horror story with or without a heartbreaking/surprising twist at the end. Sometimes I feel we ought to produce a computer programme that'll spit out all the possibilities, and we can just choose the closest and drop in the character names (and a couple of atypical details - a causeway, say...) and save ourselves a lot of time...
5 weeks ago