Saturday, July 2, 2011

I'm a Slave to Setting

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson is the thriller everyone seems to be reading this weekend. I've got forty pages to go, but I am not going to say a single word about it until I turn the last page. It's a PLOT book, a very well done plot book, but the setting is non-existent and the characterization is shallow. The latter is not an issue because of the situation of the main characters. But setting, come on! Every thriller--indeed, every novel requires a setting. This book does not have one, unless you call the hotel in the last 40 pages a setting, which I don't.

In Talking about Detective Fiction (see post for June 19), P.D. James devotes a chapter to the importance of setting, characterization, and plot. Guess what she discussed first? You're right, it's setting. As James related her beliefs about the crucial nature of setting, I felt like applauding after every paragraph I read. That's why I love her novels. Setting and atmosphere are vital elements, every bit as important as characterization and plot.

So, when I picked up another hot women's fiction-thriller that I ordered through inter-library loan last Wednesday, I was disappointed to scan the first ten pages and find virtually no setting whatsoever. Ditto was my result after leafing through the rest of the book! Because Sister: A Novel, the acclaimed debut novel by the British author Rosamund Lupton, does not have as compelling a first few pages as Before I Go to Sleep, I immediately placed Sister in the pile of "To Be Returned to the Library" books and haven't glanced at it since.


  1. I couldn't agree more. For me the setting and ambience are as important as characters - more so in fact because you can overlook a few duff characters if the atmosphere is right. Maybe this lack of setting is a modern thing, but I hope not!

  2. Katrina,
    Thank you for your thoughts. I am making sure that the rest of the books I read this summer are steeped in setting. I want to travel, you know?