Pernicious power of parody

It needed to be said.
John Crace has, well, bruised my enjoyment of the latest Jack Reacher novel, Never Go Back, by Lee Child. I frequently read Crace's Digested Read series at the Guardian because a) they're always really funny, b) I'm a big fan of satire done well, and c) he often goes after writers that need to be taken down a peg or two, anyway.

A couple of weeks ago, Crace wrote a Digested Read of Never Go Back. I laughed, because it was truly funny. But then I read the target (er, book) itself and, it was as though I had spoiled it for myself. Lee Child has a very distinct writing style. The problem with style, though, is that it can devolve into formula. Once your writing becomes formulaic, it's automatically a target for parody. Child has probably gotten away with it so far because his formula for Jack Reacher is still much better than a lot of the other novels in the mystery/thriller genre.

When someone puts a spotlight on those formulaic elements, as Crace did, it's impossible not to see the flaws in the original author's writing. The text becomes a punchline. Trying to read it without irony is so difficult that you can't just slide into the story as you did with its predecessors. You get so busy trying not to laugh that you can't concentrate on where the plot was going. The more I tried not to see what Crace had picked on, the more it became the only thing I could see.

Did I enjoy Never Go Back? Yes. But I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn't read Crace's parody of it first. I suspect that if I had read the parody after, it would have tainted my enjoyment of the book anyway because it would have picked up on things I should have when I was reading it. I don't want to sound like I'm casting blame here, because I'm not. Never Go Back was an interesting story (though Child needs to make sure he's not dialing it in at this point in the long running series). It's not Crace's fault, because that Digested Read really needed to happen.


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