Category Archives: Fiction

Some Thoughts on Reading Robert Ludlum’s The Paris Option

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It is always a game of wits between the reader and the author of a thriller / detective novel. The reader is always in the know that the hero will remain un-killed, though a little hurt, and that the villain’s plan will not succeed. The reader also knows upon picking up the novel that the apocalyptic crisis promised by the villain will be smoked by the hero, ultimately. This much is certain. But, because the author of a thriller / detective novel also knows what his/her reader knows, this author tries that extra bit to keep the reader from succeeding in predicting what is going to happen and/or how it is going to happen. Now, as a lay reader my attention is not on the failure of the author in outwitting the reader, but it is on his/her success, because my paisa-worth entertainment depends on the author being able to outwit me. If s/he fails, the reading is a bore. While as reader I try to see through the author’s tricks of setting my adrenaline racing, I do not relish being successful in those attempts because, if I do, the fun of reading is gone.

Robert Ludlum's The Paris Option

Now, let me reflect a little on that last phrase I used above – “fun of reading”. No doubt, the fiction industry depends so much on this ‘fun of reading’. I think, the variety of fiction is really the variety in the kind of ‘fun of reading’ a novel offers. And even the individual authors of a particular genre try to offer as different a ‘fun of reading’ as possible. In a thriller such as the kind Robert Ludlum writes, racy action is the key. But, racy action is actually a sequence of rapidly occurring crisis. So in such a novel, action that counts is the cusp-action. If there are too many incidents separating two cusp-actions, the novel will begin to drag. The author has to ensure that on every page there is a reminder of the looming mini-crisis, and also frequently remind the reader that these mini-crises are not an end, only an introduction to one facet of the apocalyptic crisis. The novel in fact works only because of the success of the mini-crises, and not so much because of the final one. Even, these mini-crises are to be narrated with a narrative style that anticipates danger to the hero and his/her minions very often, and that keeps the attention of the reader on the activities of the hero that promise not a solution but a complication to the problems the hero confronts. I think this is the basic building block of the thriller – this indirection. I mean, the reader is allowed more and more to see the complications building up but not the solutions being thought up. One of the sleights of hands that the thriller novelists depend on is the imbalance between the complications faced by the hero and the way they are solved – complications elaborated in great details so that the mass of details weigh heavy on the reader but hero’s solutions are covered in swift strokes, the pacy sentences here hide the paucity of details.

When I am reading Robert Ludlum’s novel, I do not allow myself too much space for noticing all of the author’s tricks. For example, in the course of reading this novel, The Paris Option, I was somehow continuously imagining how this would be cinematically represented. I noticed a couple of times how the author spends pages giving details of a character before reporting that character’s response to some statement by the other characters. As a reader, I spend a lot of time between reading the statement and reading the response to it. In between, I learn a great deal that fills me in on the motivations, psychology etc. of the characters. But a film cannot use time in this manner. I didn’t enjoy this discovery, because it shows the author’s hands, magic recedes, enchantment breaks.

Now, just imagine how this enchantment holds the reader. It is more than an enchantment – it is a chain, it is even drugging. Due to this ‘enchantment’, as a reader, I dislike thinking on my own, because the moment I do it, I lose the ‘fun of reading’. That is, the thriller novel invites me to find it extremely alluring to suspend my ability and faculty of thinking. It promises me that if only I agree to suspend my urge to think for myself, I would have ‘fun of reading’, I would find it a pure entertainment to read, I would find reading magical, ‘enchanting’. Thus reading becomes a way of fun, and fun becomes a way of ‘not thinking’, and thus begins the habit of ‘not thinking’ and concomitantly also the habit of finding ‘fun’ in everything that I ‘read’ – visually and experientially and intellectually. In fact, ‘not requiring to think’ becomes the code for ‘fun’.

Of course, reading some other kind of novel reverses this process and leads me to associate ‘thinking’ with ‘fun’.