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Reading as a writer: how one cheap trick can ruin a story.


As an admirer of Frankie Boyle’s acerbic comedy style, I was delighted to encounter a paperback copy of his novel “Meantime”, which is described on the cover as "a gloriously funny mystery".


Is it funny?


There are plenty of moments of the sardonic levity I would expect from Boyle, and I suspect the protagonist, Felix, is based on Frankie’s comedy persona, but the only time it had me laughing out loud was during Docherty’s Burns Supper performance; chapters 31 and 32 belong to that character. The rest was more subtle, but a fairly engaging read, until…


<Spoiler alert!>


I reached page 310 and was flummoxed. I scrolled back through the pages wondering how I had entirely misread the relationship between Felix and Amy. The weird thing was, I hadn’t.


On page 72, it clearly says they were virtually strangers when Felix met her during his investigation into a friend’s death:


“…didn’t seem quite the right tone for someone you’d just met.”


Oh no, I thought, what an embarrassing continuity error, as I continued to trudge through sixteen pages of info dump detailing how Felix and Amy had met at university, had a child together, and grown apart when their son died.


Perhaps I should add that this info dump divided the climactic scene—where Felix faced the murderer and was about to be killed—into two parts. Not great, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the worst of it, not by a long shot.


Eventually, on page 325, we discover that this was no continuity error but a cheap trick (the purpose of which I am unable to fathom).


“she’d … bought me a drink and asked me my name. I was too wasted to recognise her at first … we’d stayed in character the whole night”.


So, Amy and Felix knew each other all along, they just pretended not to until Boyle decided we needed to hear their backstory in the middle of an entirely unrelated, and what should have been tension-filled, scene.


Why?


Unless I am entirely wrong, it was so that at the moment the killer and his evil sidekick threaten Amy and Felix with a world of pain, Amy can make a very weak gag:


“You’re gonnae to teach us about pain? Oh, that’s fucking good.”


Aaaaah!


But at least we’re out of the backstory and deep in the action, right? Well… four pages and a phone call later, the bad guys leave and Amy and Felix “swayed out into the sunlight, laughing”.

Honestly, I wanted to throw the book out the window, but there were only twenty odd pages left and I vainly hoped to find something to justify this clumsy subterfuge. Spoiler: I didn’t.


Why did Frankie Boyle do it, and why on earth didn’t his editor put a stop to it? I’d love to know. If you have an answer, please tell me in the comments. And please, please, try to avoid cheap tricks in your writing that ruin the entire story for your readers.


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