Let’s talk about chapters.
I know that’s not exactly the sexiest way to start a blog, but just be thankful I’m not spending a thousand words asking you to consider the oxford comma.
I’ve often wondered what the point of a chapter break is, and eventually I came to the conclusion that they’re almost exclusively used to help pace a novel.
Different books use them in differing lengths. Thrillers tend to use them every other page or so, which A) helps the more casual ready to pick them up and read one or two chapters in a sitting and B) psychologically helps invoke the feeling of a fast paced, page turning thrilling book.
The thriller in front of me on my desk is 522 pages long, a big chunky novel on first glance, but there are 127 chapters in it. With each chapter comes a page break typically between half a page and a full page long – that means there’s around a hundred pages worth of blank space in this particular book.
The Feed by Nick Clark Window takes the opposite route and uses chapter breaks sparingly.
The story concerns Tom and Kate who start off the book in a world where everybody’s brain is connected to a feed – imagine twitter embedded into your mind – and one night, they daringly go off feed to have a romantic dinner where they actually talk to each other.
While off grid, the assassination of a major politician causes the government to shut down the feed for everyone, and massive panic ensues as a whole society is plunged cold turkey into a rehab they didn’t ask for.
The Feed doesn’t then quite go where you think it’s going to go, but it lets you glimpse a world that feels strangely familiar, a world where we are all addicted to social media, where our heads are always somewhere other than our bodies, where we take data in at a million miles an hour.
The desolate world that we arrive in following the removal of the feed feels like something straight out of The Walking Dead – a disparate group of survivors trying to build a new community only to run the risk that members of their new society might be taken over in their sleep by some other consciousness, one that arrives there through the now defunct feed.
The sparing use of chapter breaks frustrated me at first – I use them as natural stopping points, I can read sixty or so pages of text in a one hour sitting, but always like to stop at a natural resting point. With the first of only two chapter breaks coming in at page 114, I had to stop in the middle of the action on a few occasions.
On the other hand, the lack of breaks allowed me to live with these characters, take in their world at the same pace they were, which helped with the overall feel of the novel.
On reflection, there is just one moment where I would have liked a chapter break, a particularly dramatic moment which was slightly let down by not forcing the reader to take a breath and take it all in.
It made me think of the old omnibus episodes of EastEnders where the whole week was stitched together into one big episode. The mid-week cliffhangers always fell kind of flat, because they then rumbled on straight into the next scene.
The Feed is one of those rare things, in that while there are components that feel familiar, it is a wholly unique story that shows us a whole new world without getting too bogged down in extraneous detail. Nick Clark Windo is one to watch, and will be one of the more exciting debuts of 2018.
The Feed will be published by Headline in January 2018.