Does a Book Have to Live Up to Expectations to be Good?

by Laura Findlay

Dear Zoo,

So this question occurred to me over the weekend. What do you think? If a book is really different to what you were expecting, though not necessarily bad, does that mean it’s not a good book?

I’m not talking about hype. Sometimes books are hyped up SO MUCH that when you finally get your hands on it, it falls kind of flat. This is life – movies, events, books and many more things can fall flat if we get our hopes up to much.

I’m talking about what a book purports to be. I read a science fiction/ thriller book over the weekend that distinctly lacked much of either of those things. While there was some suspense, I was mostly reading it to find out what happened at the end (basically nothing), there was not much of the thrill – it was nothing like the feeling of reading Room or Gone Girl or another thriller that has you on the edge of your seat. It also lacked what I love about sci-fi. For me, a good sci-fi has to be plausible – it can be the zaniest, most ridiculous concept a la Joe Hill’s spontaneous combustion but the author has to sell it to you, provide the ‘logic’ that could make anything believable. If you don’t provide this framework, it’s just feels like the author had a cool idea they couldn’t flesh out, so they decided to be ‘mysterious’ or ‘literary’ and not give any detail. But for me that basically has one result: snore-fest.

There’s more. The book I read could have been praised for being a really good romance or character-centric novel where not much happens but the characters are good and there is even a heart-strings-tugging love story. But that’s not what I signed up for. Not even close (and I do like those sorts of books!) – remember, I wanted to be on the edge of my seat, up till midnight (that’s late for me), thrilled to pieces.

So, if a book is well written, is that enough? Or does the writer need to consider the whole package – a title that correctly eludes to the kind of story they’ve written, a blurb that hints at what you might be in store for and a beginning and ending that are equally satisfying and part of the same whole.

I’ve decided not to tell you what this book is, because – hey – you might love it and I don’t want to get in the way of that. What are your thoughts? Any books that totally caught you off guard?

Yours with high expectations,