First things first… yesterday I made this:
Mmmm… Apricot Meringue Gateau. With fancy caramelised shapes on top. Let me know if you want me to blog the recipe… it’s usually book-chat here, but I’m happy to diversify if you want to feast on this! I took it to a dinner party, and we demolished it… and it was rather nice, though I says it as shouldn’t. (Oh, and whilst I’m on the topic of baking – I made a chocolate sponge cake the other day, but used muscovado and demerara sugar instead of caster or granulated – can I recommend it? So yummy.)
Back to bakig matters… I mentioned, in the midst of my review yesterday, that John Carey’s introduction to Wish Her Safe At Home was very good. It made me realise that it is probably the first critical introduction I’ve ever read that actually added something to the book. I’ve read lots from children or spouses or similar which enhance the work for personal or sentimental reasons, and some (like E.M. Delafield’s introduction to Pont’s The British Character) which are deliciously funny, but I can’t remember any other more learned introductions which truly succeeded.
Of course – I doubt I’m alone here – I never read introductions or prefaces until I’ve finished the novel. Quite why publishers think it’s acceptable to call something an ‘introduction’ which gives away the entire plot, I can’t imagine. But once I’ve got to that last page, and flick back to the beginning… so often I’m left unmoved by what’s written.
The usual seems to be a quick history of the author’s life, and then a summary of the plot, with apposite quotations. Well, I don’t need a summary of the plot, I’ve just read the book… I’d like to unveil things I might have missed, perhaps give a new angle on something. Of course, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t – the worst introduction I’ve ever read was Elaine Hedges’ to The Yellow Wallpaper, which was nothing if not, ahem, ‘original’. I.e. totally unsupported by the brilliant book. Check through the archives if you want to see me having an uncharacteristic rant (!!)
So… what are your thoughts on introductions? Do you read them first or last or not at all? Any really great ones which stick in your mind, or do you – like me – tend to be a bit disappointed? And are there any books you really wish *had* had an introduction, and didn’t? (I wish the film Inception had an introduction…!)