The Difference Between a Good Novel and a Bad One – G.K. Chesterton

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.

– G.K. Chesterton

If this is true – be careful what you write! You might be revealing more about yourself than you thought.


Filed under Quotables

9 responses to “The Difference Between a Good Novel and a Bad One – G.K. Chesterton

  1. is that necessarily a bad thing? i can’t see a book like catcher in the rye not be the author pouring himself into a book.


  2. Scary thought isn’t it? Makes you think before you put pen to paper! But well said!


  3. Alexia

    I don’t know… I remember taking a class about those characters you can’t trust… Like in that one Agatha Christie novel where the narrator turns out to be guilty. We tend to trust the narrator, but are we sure they’re telling us the real story ? I read that book called The Flea Palace by Elif Safak, about an hotel in Istanbul that had very colorful residents. It was pretty entertaining – until the next chapter, where we find out the narrator has been in prison all along and tells us that he invented the story of the “Flea Palace” to distract himself. That was a really strang ending, I mean you don’t expect to be told “hey, remember those four hundreds or so pages ? well, none of it was true !” Of course, one might argue that I already know that, since it was a novel and not biography, but still, it was a strange experience, especially when I didn’t expect it at all. We expect the narrator to be telling us the truth. And even if it’s purely fictional, we still get involved in the story we’re reading.

    Another example is a book called Liar by Justine Larbalestier. It’s quite interesting cause the narrator is a pathological liar. She says “There’s some truth to all of my lies” (or something – I only know the quote in French, so it might not be exactly that). It’s an interesting book cause you keep wondering. Actually, I still don’t know what was true and what wasn’t ! But that’s also the book’s charm. It leaves a doubt in your mind for a long time after you finished reading.


    • Maybe in those cases the ending of the book reveals the main character to be a liar? 🙂 Maybe that’s a little too simple. I have read that Agatha Christie one you’re talking about. The ending so surprised me! I’m glad I read it when I was young, or I’m sure someone would’ve spoiled the ending for me by now. Unreliable narrators can make for interesting books.


  4. hmm interesting thought. I think If I sit on that long enough I might have an epiphany! Nice quote, very thought provoking.


  5. So true, but I am thinking that a good book might tell the truth about the author too. 🙂


    • Yes, I think the author’s point of view always does come through, but in a bad novel the reader is only thinking about the author (as in, ‘ why was he/she stupid enough to write it THAT way?’) instead of about the story. Distraction from the story is always bad 🙂 That’s my theory about this quote, anyway.


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