Page-turner vs. literary – does it have to be a choice?

Having read a couple of so-called literary novels recently, I’m now very much enjoying a more mainstream title. Of course there are different books for different moods and tastes but I’m increasingly exasperated by novels that encourage you to stop and admire their cleverness at every turn.

My real beef is that the authors keep inserting themselves between the reader and the story – as if holding up a mirror and saying, ‘look at me, look at me!’ – while for me the writer should be transparent as glass. Is this a new trend or am I turning into an inverted snob or just a lazy reader?

Or maybe it’s byuuecause, as a writer myself, I’ve lost the ability to read purely for pleasure. I’m too distracted examining the nuts and bolts of the writing to get lost in a book. But I refuse to believe that there’s no such thing as a literary page-turner. Or indeed, a page-turner with great literary chops.  

To my mind, a good read should not be self-conscious, drawing attention to its clever technique, sometimes at the expense of a gripping plot and engaging characters. It should connect directly with the reader, providing immersive enjoyment, as well as being intellectually satisfying. The best of authors, whether typecast as high or low brow, manage this balancing act.

Want some examples? Leaving aside the classic novels I’d consider fall into this category, from Dickens and Chandler to Conan Doyle and Wodehouse, these are a few of mine. You’ll have your own.

Barbara Kingsolver

David Nicholls

Philip Roth

Thomas Keneally

Anne Tyler

John Boyne

Help your local bookshop

What do authors David Nicholls, Marian Keyes, Matt Haig, Malorie Blackman and Adam Kay have in common? They are among the three hundred authors who’ve come together to help local bookshops during lockdown. Make that three-hundred and one. I’ve joined in.

Indie bookshops, like all bricks-and-mortar retailers, are having a hard time of it during Lockdown 2.0. The #SignForOurBookshops campaign aims to give them a helping hand. The idea, thought up by novelist Holly Bourne, is that readers who buy books from indie bookshops are rewarded with a signed bookplate from the author. Neat, eh?

If you buy a copy of Note to Boy from your local indie and contact me via Twitter or this website with proof of purchase and your address, a signed SFOB bookplate – designed by the the former children’s laureate, Chris Riddell – will be on its way to you. •••

I don’t expect to be sending out as many as the best-selling authors who are generously participating, but at least I can do my modest bit to keep local bookshops open and say ‘thank you’ to them for being so supportive of Note to Boy.

As Holly Bourne says, ‘SignForOurBookshops aims to entice locked-down customers away from the lure of a certain online retailer, by providing them with exclusive access to signed books, sold only through bookshops. It also hopes to be a thunderclap of support for bookshops, reminding people to support their local stores throughout lockdown.’

This campaign comes on the heels of the launch of another initiative,, which is pitching itself as a socially conscious alternative to Amazon. Could it be that the book market is changing?

*** UK only, sorry. Campaign ends with the lockdown (fingers crossed!) on 2 December. 


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