So there I was this morning, on my way to work, reading my book without a care in the world. A little under halfway through, I’d concluded that I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh was well-written, but not as gripping as I’d expected; it was good, I’d decided, but not great.
And then there was a twist.
Perhaps other people saw it coming, but I totally didn’t. The bombshell came so completely out of the blue that I literally exclaimed out loud, and gave the man next to me a little fright. And as soon as I knew about it, I realised I should have realised all along – but somehow I let myself get totally led down the wrong path because of one massive and incorrect assumption.
I love a good twist. For me, the perfect book is one where you think you know what’s going to happen – maybe you’re even a bit disappointed at the apparent predictability of the story – and then suddenly, everything turns completely on its head, and you have to re-evaluate everything you’ve just read. And then you find yourself starting the book again from scratch just so you can look for clues – which, of course, seem blindingly obvious second time around, and you wonder how you could possibly have missed them.
Twists like this, by the way, are really hard to write; I tried to get one into my (as yet unedited) NaNoWriMo novel last year, and because I knew what the secret was, it felt like I was dropping really obvious hints all over the place. Unfortunately I can’t tell you if that’s true or not, because so far I haven’t let anyone read it…
Anyway, it’s no surprise that some of my favourite books are ones with huge twists in them. Here are a selection (don’t panic, I’ll keep it spoiler-free) – if I’ve missed any that you think I need to read, let me know in the comments 🙂
I read Gone Girl before it was a movie, but by the time I got around to picking up Gillian Flynn’s best-seller, it was already a pretty major sensation. So I’m surprised I managed to avoid this particular twist, and, even though I was pretty sure the story couldn’t be quite as simple as it was making out, I still didn’t see the truth coming. It’s a seriously messed-up book, but well worth a read if you like to be surprised (and, obviously, if you haven’t already seen the movie).
Daphne Du Maurier’s most famous novel is a beautifully crafted story that puts us inside the mind of an insecure heroine (so much so that we never even find out her name) who’s easily led to the wrong conclusion, and takes us along with her. The difference is that this twist, while certainly surprising, isn’t as devastating as many others; in contrast, it takes the story in a new, more optimistic direction, whilst still maintaining almost unbearable levels of suspense.
The Devil’s Teardrop
Best-selling thriller writer Jeffery Deaver is known for including at least one major plot twist in his novels, to the point where, after a while, you start to look for them. (Once I was convinced I’d spotted the vital clue, and was furious when I realised it was just a typo and had no bearing on the story at all.) The Devil’s Teardrop is the first Deaver novel that I read, about fifteen years ago, and I remember being totally blown away by the shock revelation towards the end. So though it may not be his best twist, it’ll always be my favourite.
This is one of my top books of all time, and, to my surprise, I even loved the movie adaptation (I usually don’t). Because its characters are so beautifully drawn, you soon start to really care about them, and the shock conclusion, which – again – you feel you should have seen coming, is so perfectly written that you can almost forgive Ian McEwan for it. Almost.
We Were Liars
I discovered this young adult novel, by E. Lockhart, a few months ago, and when I finished it, I really did almost flip right back to the start and read it all over again. (I didn’t, but I will at some point.) What’s so brilliant about this book is that you know from the start that you’re dealing with an unreliable narrator – it’s right there in the title, after all – and yet you still don’t realise what’s really going on until it’s all over. I’m not ashamed to say this one prompted another train exclamation. Maybe I should start warning people who sit next to me…
Long before it was a Leo DiCaprio movie, this was one of the best thrillers I’d ever read, with a conclusion I’d never have predicted. Dennis Lehane’s novel is reminiscent of a classic Agatha Christie mystery, in which a woman seems to have vanished without trace from an institution that’s surrounded by water on every side. And it uses the classic misdirection technique of telling us what to believe, knowing that we’ll do it without question instead of looking for any other explanation. A fantastic book – if you haven’t read it, you should. But maybe not on a dark, stormy night.
We Need To Talk About Kevin
A book I read once, and thought was brilliant, but will never read again – twist or no twist – mostly because of the traumatic eye incident (if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, you’ve been warned). Even before we get to the truth at the heart of the book, Lionel Shriver’s award-winning novel is deeply disturbing, so the final revelation is just an extension of the horror – and yet it still makes you reconsider everything that’s gone before in the light of that new information.
My Sister’s Keeper
Jodi Picoult is another author who’s known for adding a twist to her tales – usually accompanied by a courtroom exploding – but this one is particularly effective, perhaps because it’s paired with a shock ending. The well-worn device of having multiple narrators allows Picoult to disguise what’s really going on by simply switching to a new character’s voice any time we get too close to the truth. But obviously we don’t realise that at the time…
Florence and Giles
A fabulously creepy little book by John Harding, inspired by The Turn of the Screw. It’s got all the elements you could want in a scary story: a crumbling old house, two orphaned children, an absent guardian, a violent death and a sinister governess. As the mystery deepens and the suspense builds, we’re encouraged to focus all our attention on one character, when maybe we should have been looking elsewhere. Or should we?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Most of the Potter books have a twist in them somewhere, and my initial instinct was to go for The Goblet of Fire, which has always been my favourite of the seven. But then I remembered the final book, and the big twist in there that makes you immediately want to re-read the whole series in light of what you just found out. If you haven’t read the books yet, I won’t spoil it, and if you’re a Potter fan, I’ll just say ‘Always’ and you’ll know which bit I mean…
Did I miss anything good? Send me your suggestions of books with great twists and I’ll check them out 🙂