Index-linked spoilers

June 2, 2011

As a card-carrying member of the attention-deficit generation, at least as far as novels are concerned, the article by Valerie Sanders ("Docked tales", 26 May) reinforced a long-held view about novelists and a major gap in the fiction market. How can novelists be so lazy as to introduce a character on page 5 of a novel and then expect us to remember who that person is when they refer to them again on page 238?

The answer, of course, is two editions of every novel: one "pure" version for the literati, supplemented by a "duffers" edition for the rest of us. This second version would have two key additional elements, namely footnotes to remind us who the various characters are, together with a non-fiction-style index so that we can quickly look up the key happenings relating to those characters and go back to reread as necessary.

Before your astute readers point out the major flaw in my proposal, I realise that the index may need to be edited somewhat so as not to give the main story away. It would be dispiriting indeed to read several hundred pages of a novel, growing ever more emotionally attached to the captivating heroine, only to then accidentally spot a reference in the index: "Heroine, fatal attack by machete".

Jonathan Ruddle, Reading

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