Embracing the Unexpected

SweetTooth_Anchor_200Do you know one of those people who always figures out the murderer in an Agatha Christie, or sees the twist in the tale coming long before it’s revealed? (I’m thinking of my buddy Anna Campbell, who probably hasn’t been surprised by a story twist since Dorothy landed in Oz).

Aren’t they irritating? (Sorry, Anna! I mean that in the nicest possible way). Particularly if they guess the secret before you do–my husband still doesn’t believe I guessed The Crying Game secret immediately–that’s what I get for being too considerate to blurt it out before the end! It’s a bit of a double-edged sword being a writer. We tend to see the underpinnings of story and we know when something is being set up and why.

Romance readers are shrewd detectives when it comes to relationships. Of course, it’s usually obvious that the main couple will get together at the end, but readers can sniff out spin-off fodder a mile away–even when that spin-off might only be a tiny glimmer in the author’s subconscious.

Usual_suspects_ver1Recently, I read a book by Ian McEwan called SWEET TOOTH, the ending of which took me by surprise. Now, for those die-hard romance fans among us who still haven’t forgiven McEwan for ATONEMENT, let me say that SWEET TOOTH goes a long way to–ahem–atone for that tragic tale of lovers torn apart.

I’ve always had a deep love for spy stories. I must confess it’s one of the few genres besides literary fiction in which I read male authors, even if their female characters tend to be on the thin side (and I’m not just talking about dress sizes!)

When I picked up SWEET TOOTH, I was intrigued that the protagonist was a woman, certainly, but I thought I knew what this book would be about. A young woman is recruited for intelligence work during the Cold War. I expected lots of twists and turns as she stumbles upon information no one wants her to have and ultimately fights for her country and her life. 

I was wrong.

278613_detIn 1972 Serena Frome is groomed for intelligence work and given a mission, code named Sweet Tooth. She goes undercover and makes contact with a writer, Tom Haley. So far, so much I expected. But by the end, what seems to be a classic spy thriller becomes something altogether different–and more satisfying for anyone who is a true romantic at heart. I won’t spoil it in case you decide to read it, but suffice it to say that this book has stayed with me not just because of the powerful writing but because it has one of those masterly twists that makes you replay the entire story in your mind in a new light.

We read genre fiction because basically, it’s comforting. We know what to expect. There’s a sort of built-in guarantee of enjoyment–at least to the extent that if you love romance novels, and you buy a romance novel, you will get the “courtship” story you are looking for. Yet, often, it’s the unexpected in stories that makes them stay with us long after we close the book. 

Have you read any books or watched any movies or TV series where you were completely blind-sided by a clever twist?

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Comments

33 Comments

  • Helen says:

    Is he staying with me ?

    Have Fun
    Helen

  • Jane says:

    Hello Christina,
    The twist in “The Usual Suspects” was one of the best. The only other movies I can think of right now that had a clever twist was “No Way Out” and “The Sixth Sense.”

  • Helen says:

    Christina

    I have not read any of these books and it is a long time since I read Agatha Christie’s I am not one who can pick the killer etc in stories although there have been some that stand out and aas for a book or movie that I have read or watched with a clever twist in it then yes I have read a new to me author her debut called The Paris Time Capsule which is based on a true story about an apratment that has been locked up since The Germans invaided Paris and the twist in the end of this one was so good I highly recommend this book by Ella Carey and Australian author (and I never picked this one) LOL

    Have Fun
    Helen

  • J St George says:

    Great post, Christina.

    My husband has never forgiven me for working out at the beginning of Usual Suspects who Keyser Söze was! It is very satisfying because my husband is one of those people who knows ‘everything!!’ but I can get him every time in a ‘who done it’.

    I love Ian McEwan novels, but haven’t yet read Sweet Tooth. I was blindside by Atonement.

    • Jen, thanks so much for dropping in today. Lovely to see you! Oh, I had no idea about The Usual Suspects. I was totally taken in. Good on you for being able to one-up your brainiac husband!

      I hope I haven’t spoiled Sweet Tooth simply by saying there is a twist! I really did try not to give anything away.

  • Amy Conley says:

    As far as tv goes, for me it is almost every episode of SCANDAL.OMG, the twists and turns are way beyond anything I’m ever expecting.

    I’m sitting here racking my brain for the book I recently read which slayed me at the end. I was so mad! And if there isn’t a sequeal, I will be gutted.

  • Amy I haven’t come across SCANDAL. I must look for it. Hope you remember that book. If you do, you’ll have to come back and tell us.

    • Amy Conley says:

      Christine S ANDAL will blow you away. For me, part of the best thing is Kerry Washington starring and being this strong woman.

      The book is an ARC, I do know that because I’m reading all my ARCs right now. I’m trying to finish all my ARCs before they come out. To bad Kindle should keep track of the order I finish my books, it would be easier to find. LOL

  • Shannon says:

    I think Casa Blanca surprised me. How could they make the decisions they made and then live with them?

    Citizen Kane was also surprising. Who can expect the final scene where the cold hero becomes a lonely boy?

    Spoiler Alert: And in Judas Unchained, the whole thing of the detective becoming death ill until her nemesis’ death. I just wanted both of them to live. The anti-hero had become a hero.

    • Ah, Shannon, Casablanca is such a fantastic movie, isn’t it? I think the nobility of character is what really shines through there, isn’t it? I have to confess I haven’t seen Citizen Kane. Must remedy that. Judas Unchained sounds intriguing, too!

  • catslady says:

    I see dead people lol. I only figured it out maybe 5 minutes before everyone realized it so I can’t count that as knowing. And I didn’t get to see The Crying Game but of course I know the ending. I love being surprised. The only thing I don’t like is when it makes no sense. I read a book where they totally “cheated” at the ending.

    • Catslady, don’t you hate it when they cheat? I love it when all the clues are there all along and you smack your forehead and think “I should have seen that!”

  • pjpuppymom says:

    Hi Christina! I’m one of those annoying people who typically sniffs out the plot twist well in advance but there are a few books/movies out there that have taken me by surprise.

    Jane already mentioned “No Way Out.” That’s one that had me gasping in shock. I did not see that twist coming!

    I recently read CONFESSION by Carey Baldwin, a romantic suspense thriller with a twist I did not guess. Baldwin has a talent for taking me by surprise. She did the same thing in her debut, FIRST DO NO EVIL, which I also loved.

    • Hi PJ! Now I could have guessed you have the kind of mind that would work out the plot twist well in advance. I haven’t seen NO WAY OUT. Thanks for that recommendation and also Carey Baldwin’s books. Must check them out!

  • Christina, what an interesting topic! I’m not that good at spotting how a story will end, as a rule, but I like twists that rely on something I wouldn’t have considered possible–if, and it’s a big if–that twist is properly set up. I once read a historical mystery in which the key to the solution lay in an event that happened off page. I thought this was not playing fair.

    When I first read The Game of Kings by the late, great Dorothy Dunnett, I didn’t much care for it. Didn’t like the characters, didn’t care about Renaissance Scotland, didn’t like the first line. I persisted only because it was a Christmas gift from a friend who likes many of the same things I do. I was mentally grumbling as I read, though.

    And then came the twist. The last 100 or so pages turned everything inside out.

    I devoured the rest of the series–and these are weighty tomes that made for thick mass market paperbacks, around 600 pages each if I remember correctly–in a week. I read far into the night, read before work, had lunch at my desk so I could read, read as soon as I got home.

    And then came the last chapter of the last book…and another twist, a heartwrenching one yet one that satisfied the romance reader in me and won these books a permanent spot on my keeper shelf. I liked them so much that I lugged the six hardbacks, which were not available here, home from England in my carryon a couple of decades ago.

    • Nancy, I have heard so many wonderful things about that series, thank you for reminding me. I downloaded the audio book because I don’t get an awful lot of time to sit around reading any more, but the narrator was so irritating with his fake Scots accent that I couldn’t stand to listen. However, I really need to read it. Maybe when I next go on holiday…

  • Shutter Island. Not a big DiCaprio fan, but my brother told me to watch the film. He knows I love those shocking twists.

    I saw The Sixth Sense in the theatre when it came out. Everyone in the audience, myself included, figured out the twist about the same time Bruce Willis did. There was this rush of gasps and then Whoa! I have always remembered it because it was one of those great movie going experiences you can’t get anywhere else.

    An yes, Nancy, the Lymond series is one of those can’t put down series well worth the time it takes to get through them.

    • Caren Crane says:

      YES, Shutter Island! When you think you’ve figured it out, you haven’t. And I honestly did not read a single review or article about The Sixth Sense before seeing it. I wanted the surprise!

    • Louisa, I can imagine being in a theatre and all gasping together. I saw that one on DVD but I saw The Crying Game in the cinema and it wasn’t just gasps, it was a dull roar. I think the men, particularly, reacted viscerally to the surprise. LOL

  • Caren Crane says:

    Christina, I LOVE to be surprised by twists in movies. One of the best was Memento, which is a seriously gritty film. But awesome! And super twisty!

    I do not even try to figure out whodunnit in a whodunnit. My extra-annoying oldest sister, though, will blurt out in the first 15 minutes of a film exactly whodunnit. So annoying! 🙂

    I don’t want to know. I just want to ride the ride and have all the fun along the way. Now I want to read Sweet Tooth just to enjoy the twist! 😀

    I also thought Girl With the Dragon Tattoo had some great twists. The book, not the movie. The book was really wonderful.

    And let us not forget The Red Wedding. All fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series know that of which I speak. Ack!

    • Posh, thanks for recommending Memento, I haven’t seen that one.

      I knew there was going to be a red wedding long before I actually got to it in the TV series but I didn’t know which wedding, so I was actually a little relieved when it wasn’t my absolute favourite characters being killed!

      My dad told me that the villain in an Agatha Christie is always the star with top billing. Kind of ruined them for me! And now I’ve ruined it for everyone who reads this, too. LOL

  • Cassondra says:

    Wonderful blog Christine!

    I have to tell you, my husband is one of those who guesses the endings and it makes me nuts. BUT…he’s also one who takes stuff at face value and that stuff drives me crazy.

    Someone will behave contrary to character or reasoning, and he just accepts it. I get up and get angry. “WHY DID HE DO THAT? THAT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE? WHAT THE HECK?
    Steve: Can’t you just accept that he DID it?

    Me: NOOOOOO!!!!!!! It’s convenient to the story, but that character wouldn’t do that darnit!

    Grrrr.

    The only story that comes to mind that surprised the heck out of me lately was Lars and the Real Girl

    It blew me away. I was, frankly, surprised all the way through it. I would never have watched this movie if Dianna Love hadn’t recommended it. (She’s like Mikey. She’ll watch anything to try it out because she loves movies and story so much. Steve is the same way. Me? Not.)

    So anyway, that movie surprised me. Not mystery or suspense or anything, but it’s a fantastic flick.

    • Actually, Cassondra, I saw Lars on Dianna’s recommendation, too. She was talking about it in one of her RWA workshops, so I hired it on DVD and she’s so right. It’s a really special film, that one.

  • Christina, you crack me up! I think if you’ve read as much as I (and you!) have, it’s easy to see when things are being set up. When, for example, there’s a cousin mentioned out of the blue in the first five minutes of the movie, it’s pretty clear that the cousin’s going to save the day in the end. Otherwise why mention him/her? I’m always surprised when people don’t get that! It doesn’t actually spoil my pleasure in a story because how all those strands come together is one of the fun things in a book.

    Actually Atonement did surprise me and I have to say it’s a book that’s stayed with me (although the ending really riled me). And I love how McEwan didn’t downplay the fact that those two characters were genuinely in love and that the love was worth fighting for. Often with serious literary fiction, I find they treat sincere emotion as a complete waste of space and anyone who believes in love is just a sap. Love the scene in the library – it’s good in the film, but in the book, it’s amazing! Must try Sweet Tooth. Sounds great. I tried to read Enduring Love but it was just too nasty for me so I gave up on it. Amazing writing but just such a horrible world to live in.

    • Yes, Anna, there are all those little triggers that go off throughout a story, aren’t there? The library scene in Atonement was hot! I haven’t read the book but I’m intrigued. I wondered whether they staged that scene differently from the book. It seems not!

  • Laurie G says:

    In the book Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card) I was totally faked out by the game’s ending, not true in the movie version.