Sunday, 10 January 2021

In Search of Jolts

It struck me today that, although I read quite a lot of fiction - more and more not of the contemporary variety (but that's another story) -  despite the dozens or even hundreds of novels I've read, I can only think of two where I have been genuinely shocked, quite physically jolted, by something they contained. 

The two novels that come to mind are Still Life by AS Byatt and A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. I won't tell you how they jolted me - they are both so worth reading that I wouldn't dream of spoiling them.

There is a third novel I can think of that delivered if not quite a jolt then certainly a shocking surprise in its final pages. It is the exquisite Paul Street Boys by Ferenc Molnar. The really clever thing about Molnar's little jolt is that when you race back and look at the book's beginning you realise that the late surprise ought not to have been one at all.

Can anyone recommend literary jolts other than the examples cited above?


  1. There's a brilliant jolt in Philip Roth's The Human Stain (if you don't know it's coming). And the daddy of all jolts, I suppose, is in Jude the Obscure, but I wouldn't recommend it...

    1. I've never had the courage to read Jude the Obscure, and I had thought the plot of The Human Stain sounded a bit ridiculous. On the other hand, I like both writers so I might one day tackle them, but I'll wait until I've forgotten they contain jolts, for maximum jolting. I've remembered another novel that contained a big shock for me: A Handful of Dust, a telephone call received by Brenda Last and her reaction before she can censor her own thoughts. Absolutely made me gasp.