"William Boyd’s review of Henning Mankell’s new novel, 'A Treacherous Paradise' (July 21), ruined my reading of the book," wrote one angry reader.
"I have not read Henning Mankell’s book, but I certainly feel little need to now that Boyd has revealed the entire plot," declared another.
I'm always curious to know what other reviewers think about books I've read, since no two people experience the same book in exactly the same way. Boyd's review was highly positive, and I thought it was great to see a deserving book get good press... but, as I wrote in a comment to my own writeup, the NYT review gave away "most of the plot, including the ending, so those who want to appreciate the suspense should steer clear."
In reading the letters to the editor, I was glad to see I wasn't alone! I also found it ridiculous to criticize (as some Guardian commenters did) those who "read for plot" and don't want the twists and turns in a suspense novel told to them in advance.
I've written for several review publications that had "no spoiler" policies, and when I edit reviews for the Historical Novels Review, I check with the reviewer if some aspect of their writeup looks potentially spoilery. If I haven't read a book myself, it isn't always easy to tell for sure. On the other hand, if I have read the book in question, and I know a key plot point is being disclosed, I carefully edit the review to blur the details and leave the big reveal for the reader to discover on her own.
This is one of the responsibilities and hazards of editing reviews; sometimes I learn a little too much about books I'd planned on getting to. Fortunately this happens rarely, and this is an extreme example... but I still remember one time when a brand new reviewer, not being used to the job yet, turned in a review of a WWII thriller that told me the protagonist would be killed at the very end, his airplane crashing to the ground in a huge ball of flame. I still haven't read the book (and no, I'm not going to say which one it is).
What are your thoughts on spoilers? How much do you want to know about a book, plot-wise, when you read a review?