The Naming of Novels

…is no easy matter.

As a writer, it can be hard to come up with something that is pertinent and memorable. Sharp, catchy yet unique.

Yet lately, publishers seem to be favouring titles that are, in fact, ambiguous and not at all easy to remember.

A week or two ago, like two middle-aged (ok – approaching late middle aged)characters from an Anita Brookner novel, my friend Carol and I met in the coffee shop at Peter Jones in Sloane Square and, amongst other things, talked books.

And the two of us were constantly trying to refer to novels we had recently read, but could not quite remember the titles. We put this down, not to our undoubtedly mature age, but to the ambiguity of so many of these titles.

Fashions definitely seem to be A Thing in entitling a novel.

I have only to check a few novels recently read to find the following:

When All is Said and Done.

Everything I Never Told You

Hot Milk

Nothing But Blue Sky

The Art of Falling

It’s no criticism of the content, but trying to connect some of the titles with the story and even worse remember it can be challenging.

Of course past eras were suitably simple.

There’s no ambiguity about eponymous novels: Emma, Jane Eyre, Tom Jones, Jude the Obscure, The Great Gatsby to name just a few.

Then there’s the the helpful premise of the novel that Jane Austen gave us with her titles of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion.

Place names can usefully pinpoint setting for us in the way of Middlemarch and Mansfield Park. Northanger Abbey, Wuthuring Heights and – yes, of course, Miller Street SW22!

And Arnold Bennett’s wonderful novels (that not many people seem to read or talk about these days – surely he’s an author in need of a revival!) are summed up with Riceyman Steps, Anna of the Five Towns, Clayhanger and The Old Wives’ Tale.

Mainly monosyllabic single word titles also seem to be ‘on trend’ lately. Outline, Blink, Free, Lost – a fashion that seems to owe itself to the habit of tv mini series doing something similar.

Of course single word titles are useful when it comes to eBooks – too much text clutters the small image that potential readers see.

But is it significant? Do we, as readers, need to gain some idea of genre and content from the title of a novel? Clearly, publishers think we do – have you noticed how many titles have, in recent years, had the word girl featuring? Girl on a Train, Girl with A Tattoo, Girl in Pieces or even, simply, The Girls.

Of course some of the seemingly ambiguous titles are probably highly symbolic or deeply meaningful – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But I have to say that lately I’ve been reading a lot of novels written in the middle of the 20th century and the titles are refreshingly easy to keep in mind – and also very faithful to content.

The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark belongs to this category as does her novel The Ballad of Peckham Rye, both highly recommended.

So how many titles of novels that you have read recently have memorable titles? Unique titles that convey a clear flavour and idea of the content and that you will remember in order to recommend the book to other readers?

Or is it just me and my friend, Carol, who sit over our coffees in Peter Jones and reminisce fondly about writers such as Miss Read with Village School, Changes at Fairacre, Village Diary et al?

Nothing post-modern or ‘on trend’ about Miss Read’s titles for her delightful novels!

Happy reading – and recalling titles – this summer!

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