When is a book spoiler a poem?
I tweeted a flippant idea recently. So far, so normal:
People were intrigued. Replies streamed in faster than Hogwarts letters forcing themselves into the Dursley’s house telling Harry he should be in school. Literary podcast account @TheLitBoost said “This might be the greatest thread I’ve ever seen. Part literary encyclopaedia, part pub quiz!”
I tried to retain a semblance of control – didn’t want to be responsible for ruining people’s first readings with real spoilers, hence the title ban. But some replies named characters that instantly identified a book, so I added another rule:
A few men (oh really?) treated the whole thread as their specialised subject on Mastermind and, in the words of our Great Liar, spaffed as many quickfire answers as they could up the wall before I politely asked them to stop ruining it.
Some people were desperate to know the answers. I witnessed persistent badgering, rebuffed by stalwart denials. It was like watching the old 140 vs 280 Twitter War all over again, marvelling at how someone could hold the line with steely nerve. I think in the end the information was passed across covertly in a DM, like a state secret hidden in the lining of a le Carré briefcase.
There were definite favourite spoilers, turning up multiple times. I’m sorry to break it to you, but it is apparently inescapable: Beth dies. Over and over again. The other hugely popular one was that they all did it. Death soon established itself as the greatest spoiler of all. There were any number of pronouns who ended up doing it, and I became helpless in a whirling Agatha Christie tornado of subject-verb-object gender fluid possibility.
I saw two replies close to each other which I assumed referred to the same book: “she’s in the loft” and “reader, she married him”. I quipped this back to both of them with a mental smirk worthy of Mr Collins, only to be informed that one of them referred to Anne Frank. There’s a gif for that.
People shared wonderful anecdotes. @Rachel_Curzon said: “This reminds me of teaching Of Mice and Men at a new school one year. Had to go through 32 copies of the book, rubbing out a three-word spoiler that was on the first page of EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. You’ll know what they’d written. Couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry…” I’m sorry to say this exact three-word spoiler turned up several times in the thread. People, despite my urging, can still be monsters.
The spoiler list grew like Alice after she’d nibbled Eat Me cake. When a poet is faced with a data set like that, there is legally only one option: create a found poem. The rules are simple – you can’t invent any of it yourself, only rearrange what already exists. I wrote down my favourites, and over the next couple of days produced a composite poem which reads like a surreal literary criticism textbook on plot.
Why yes, I am on a deadline for my next novel. What do you think I was doing hanging round on Twitter so much? Have a poem on me and the wonderful people who replied to my daft invitation:
The Book Spoiler Found Poem
The dog dies, the spider dies; ants endure.
She’s not really dead. He dies instead.
She cut the head off the snake.
The sister never goes to a conservatory for violin.
They could not tell them apart.
She doesn’t die of cancer, he does.
They’re really dead. The kestrel dies.
The boy and his mother survive.
It’s not kinky romance, it’s domestic violence.
You were complicit. No personal odour.
Girl back again. Green food tastes good.
It ate everything. The whale dunnit.
It was the minister. The kid did it.
The detective did it.
Marries the arsehole. She couldn’t read.
She was his sister. The good guys win.
Horse becomes glue.
Whale 1 – Ahab 0.
It was her mum. It’s not his mum.
They didn’t all live happily ever after.
After all that, she dies.
The fish dies. The gorilla dies.
She’s a chimpanzee.
The ring melts.
Reader, she married him.
He’s a girl. She’s in the attic.
One of them WAS lying.
His wife’s in the attic love.
Life was better in 1983.
Everybody dies. They were all alive
the entire time. He was dead the whole time.
They were too menny.
They are the same person.
Nobody learned anything.
Given away by the bricked up cat.
Beth dies. They all did it.
She’s not furniture.
Beth dies. She meets her dad at the station.
The bling is toast.
He was a horcrux.
Beth dies. It doesn’t matter who did it.
It just stopped.
The mouse gets to eat his nut in peace.
They did need a bigger boat.
It was on the pages of the books.
He gets shot in his swimming pool.
yes yes she says yes
Good dog … BANG!
Adulteress eats arsenic.
He gets shot by his lover’s husband’s lover’s husband.
The narrator did it.
He finally makes it home.