evadne_noel: A man and the cresent moon in a rowboat (beata beatrix)
[personal profile] evadne_noel
Look, I’m not demanding. I don’t expect a lot from the back covers of my books. Yes, I am somewhat annoyed with the current habit of using quotes from people I don’t care about blathering on about how fantastic the novel is. I really would prefer a description of what happens in the book. But when the plot summary is inaccurate, it’s just as useless as the blurbs, and more annoying.

I just finished The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf, and the reason I picked it up at all was the back cover. However, upon reading the novel, I discovered a few inaccuracies. Let’s have a look-see, shall we? The back reads, and I quote:

We meet young, free-spirited Rachel Vinrace aboard her father’s ship, the Euphrosyne, departing London for South America. Surrounded by a clutch of genteel companions – among them her aunt Helen, who judges Rachel to be “vacillating,” “emotional,” and “more than normally incompetent for her years” – Rachel displays a startling maturity when she finds her engagement to the writer Terence Hewet listing toward disaster. As she soon discovers, “tragedies come in the hungry hours.”


Let’s start with a basic assumption that one would make after reading this. You would think that this book takes place on a ship, correct? Wrong. Only about 80 or so pages of the nearly 400 page book take place on a ship. Most of the novel, including the engagement mention in the summary, takes place at a hotel in a fake English colony in South America. (The front cover of a ship’s rail doesn’t help either.)

Now let’s look at the actual text. Rachel is described as “free-spirited.” Now, I don’t know what you think of as “free-spirited,” but a quiet, ignorant, largely helpless piano-obsessed girl who doesn’t understand her own feelings nor the feelings of others, and has fantasies about lying at the bottom of the ocean is not “free-spirited” to me. In fact, one of the points of the novel is that the various roles prescribed to women prevent her from ever being “free-spirited.”

Also, there’s the description of her boat company as genteel, including an unfavorable description of Aunt Helen. These people sound like the vapid middle-class people who fill satire, don’t they? Except, the only actual “genteel” people are the Dalloways (yes, those Dalloways). Everyone else on the ship is so incredibly queer (in the original meaning of the word) that they would never do in genteel society. The back of the novel sets up a confrontation that doesn’t really exist.

Also, those descriptions of Rachel by Helen are completely true. That doesn’t mean Helen goes about fixing it in completely the right way, but she does try to educate the girl, and succeeds somewhat.

Now for the part with Terence. First, her “starling maturity” has little to do with her relationship with Terence, and more to do with the fact that she develops as a character. In fact, if she hadn’t developed until her engagement, I would have been furious with the novel because they don’t get engaged until the last 100 pages of the book. That’s a lot of time for a character to be in stasis.

Also, as for the impending disaster, one point for the use of a nautical metaphor (“listing toward disaster”), but minus two points because a) nautical metaphors are overused and b) it’s entirely untrue!

Not that her relationship with Terence is all wine and roses. But the back of the book makes it sound like their relationship is falling apart. It may be that they should never have gotten engaged in the first place, because Rachel has problems with men and desire. But Terence loves her whole-heartedly (though he’s needy), and Rachel has sort of a calm about her impending marriage.

Now, Rachel dies after she gains this calm, and one interpretation of the book is that she died to escape her marriage. Which, given her fears, is possible. However, I saw it more of a just giving up instead of fighting for an unknown quantity. Maybe she and Terence would have had a happy marriage, maybe not. But she didn’t know and sank into oblivion rather than try.

But both of these are just interpretation and even the Introduction admits that no one is quite sure what Woolf was going for with the ending. In the text, there really was no disastrous engagement.

Finally, that last quote looks meaningful, doesn’t it? And it is. It just not really related to the situation at hand. It’s a general statement about tragedy occurring when people have energy. It’s not specifically about Rachel. It’s like they just opened the book and pulled out a random quote to use at the end.

I normally wouldn't get so upset about a misleading plot summary. It happens all the time. Sometimes it’s difficult for a publisher to have some read the entire book before coming up with blurb to release to the public.

But this book is 90 years old. It’s by Virginia Freakin’ Woolf. It has an academic introduction. People have been reading and analyzing this for years. You could probably Google a better plot summary than this. Someone has to know what this book is about. ‘Cause when you’re inaccurate about 90-year-old book, you just look dumb.

Thus ends my inner-English major’s rant.

Survey’s still open, just so you know.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-22 01:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agentmaly.livejournal.com
Yeah, those sorts of things have been bugging me recently, too. There is an odd trend recently to just stick quotes from people I've never heard of who I assume are supposed to be vaguely important on the back of books and call that good, isn't there? I find that this happens a lot also with books published a good while ago and books that're famous enough that it's assumed I already know what they're about (which, of course, I sometimes don't). But I never really saw it happening much to newly-published books until just recently, and.. it's annoying me. It helps to actually tell me what the book will be about, especially when it's newly-published, and therefore harder to find information on.

Sorry. I seem to have a given you a mini-rant. ^^

But eh, yes, misleading plot summaries are highly irritating. Even if it does turn out to be a good book, I'd appreciate being told from the start that it will be about an estranged family being drawn back together, not that it's about a girl dealing with her father's death. Whoever writes the blurbs seems to like to focus on things that're actually just side plots and add lots of inconsequential details in a misleading fashion. It's weird. Do they think they make it more exciting that way? Because they really don't.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-27 02:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evadne-noel.livejournal.com
I totally agree with your mini-rant. I don't CARE what those people think. I want to know what it's about.

I hate it when they focus on inconsquential things in summaries. Do they think we won't notice?

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-22 03:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dreamstrifer.livejournal.com
I just checked a book out of the library, and it said it was a bout a mother and a daughter who were separated for ten or so years. The daughter went to finishing school, and the mother worked on her late husbands freight driving business (Set in the 1800's), and it said it was about how the daughter had to learn to love the mother she "never knew while looking at her own lavish and opulent lifestyle."

The mother and daughter didn't remeet until like, three chapters from the end of the book. It was motly about the mother, instead of the daughter.

It made me kind of mad, because if the back of the book had a better summary, I would have enjoyed the book more.

SO I totally agree with you.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-27 02:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evadne-noel.livejournal.com
That's exactly the same thing! They don't meet until the end, just like Rachel and Terrence don't even get engaged until the end.

Obviously, whoever wrote those summaries just flipped to the ends of the books.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-23 02:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] musemuffin.livejournal.com
They do it with movies, too. One good example: marketing Signs as another scary movie, when it that wasn't the point of the movie at all. I personally think it's the reason Signs flopped so badly. Same thing with Ocean's 12; I realize the plot is just slightly complicated(too complicated, but that's a separate issue), but they could've at least mentioned the French thief in the trailer.
What's really weird to do is watch the trailer right after you've seen the movie, and you see how they manipulate scenes to make it seem like something completely different is going on.

It's all marketing. They're not trying to be accurate with the blurbs; they're just trying to sell you the book or movie. That's all.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-27 02:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evadne-noel.livejournal.com
The thing with "Signs" is that I don't think an actual summary of the movie would have sold the movie, and it would have flopped anyway. "Man rediscovers his spirituality and moves on with his life due to the peripheral actions of aliens" would not have done well.

But a real summary of the book would have made no difference. But, you're right. It is all just marketing.

La

Date: 2005-04-23 12:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lijz-chick.livejournal.com
Ha, 'musemuffin' I noticed that too, ^_^ I have a very hard time watching the movie trailers after I see the movie exspecially when they put in things that they don't even show in the movie, (actually they did that alot in ROTK)

But one time my mom saw a comercial for a movie, and apparently whatever she saw made her laugh and want to see it. We saw it, and it wasn't there, just a reference to it that wasn't remotely funny. My mom will NEVER trust advertizers again.

I can understand your frustration Evadne, giving someone 90 years to do something, and coming back and they did a sucky job of it, it's retarded.

Re: La

Date: 2005-04-27 02:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evadne-noel.livejournal.com
I think the 90 years is the part that gets me the most. It's not like someone didn't have the time to actually read it.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-23 06:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] laurenmitchell.livejournal.com
I have the feeling with a LOT of books that the blurb writer didn't even read the damn thing.

When I was doing work experience at Allen & Unwin, one of my tasks was to write a blurb for a book I'd read, and it was actually incredibly hard, but still. I did do a better job than the example you've given.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-27 02:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evadne-noel.livejournal.com
I agree that one actually reads the books. Blurb writing is hard, but, c'mon. 90 years!

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-24 12:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alory-shannon.livejournal.com
I share your general dislike of the back of books being covered with random claims about how WONDERFUL the book is. I work at a library, so I see it all the time (and I swear, if I see one more new fantasy book that claims that the author is 'the new Tolkien'...It's never true in any case).


And I once read a book where the summary on the back was quite literally for another book. The characters' names were all right, but the plot was totally different. I remember reading the back, then reading the book...and then reading the back again, and going 'What the heck?'


But that isn't as bad as the Virginia Woolf thing, you're right. For her at least you'd think they'd try a little harder.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-26 10:08 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Alory-
The whole "the new Tolkien" would actually turn me off (Call me a heretic but I don't really like Tolkien!)

Evande, don't feel too bad. One of my favorite authors (Kelley Armstrong) wrote a book about a serial killer hunting down these magical bigwigs' children (the book "Industrial Magic" is the fourth in her series "Women of the Otherworld"). One character (Savannah) is a target but it's not really that important that she is (she is literally in five scenes). For the past two books she has been the CENTER of Super Terrifying Dilemmias! (TM) but in this recent one, she's not (she can't always be the one getting kidnapped! It's someone else's turn!). So, the author even told the publisher not to bring her up in the blurb because she's not that important to the plot. But they ignored her and the "fact" that the character could be the next victim is the closing sentence.
When asked, the author explained the situation and joked that she didn't want, "Book 11: An avalanche is about to bury a town of supernaturals and Savannah is directly in its path!"

Terra

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-27 02:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evadne-noel.livejournal.com
Even when the authors ask for something in the blurb, they don't listen. That may be even worse. Sometimes I think marketing departments actually hate the books they sell.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-04-27 02:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evadne-noel.livejournal.com
Oh, man. I HATE the "New Tolkien" label. Look, whoever it is, it's not like Tolkien. It's probably just the same old tripe as always. This is why fantasy gets such a bad rap.

No, I think the "whole other book" summary wins. This book was at least somewhat correct. It was only that paragraph that was wrong, and it wasn't totally wrong.

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