Wednesday 19 November 2014

Misleading titles...

...a quick post tonight, as life has been super busy of late (and I'm a bit of a minor medical mess at the moment - limping around and a bit coldy and suchlike) - but wanted to quiz you on something that came up at book group tonight: what is the most misleading title you've read?

I always think it's fascinating to see how a title can affect the way we read a book. I think I first noticed it with William by E.H. Young, which completely changed the slant of a book about adultery (to make it all about the father's viewpoint) - and since then, I've pondered it over with lots of books. Sometimes, as with a particular Muriel Spark, the title can even reveal a huge spoiler...

As for misleading titles - there is the whole tractors-in-Ukrainian school of titles, which thankfully seems to be dying out now (self-conscious wackiness never quite works) but others, like The Catcher in the Rye or even To Kill a Mockingbird seem to be so tangential as to be unreliable. Then there's The Silence of the Lambs...

But, moving away from that sort of metaphor, I thought of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go - a title that seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with the novel (except for the shoe-horned-in song) or its tone. Similarly, Jocelyn Playfair's A House in the Country sounded like an idyllic rural novel, and certainly was not.

Over to you!


  1. Am currently reading Allen Bennett's book Buried Alive that also has a dark forbidding cover and the story is really about exchanging identity with someone who just died. Sounds much more dire than it is. Quite a funny book I might add.

  2. All the Flavia de Luce mysteries starting with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie have titles that are from poems, I think. But they seemingly have nothing to do with the story.

  3. I read a book by Mal Peet called Life:an Exploded Diagram which was a really lovely coming of age novel, but would you read it with a title like that? The cover is also very misleading.

  4. Totally OT, but have you snuck into my cottage and taken a photo through one of the upstairs windows? Bizarre similarity.

  5. While I like Alexander McCall Smith as a person (so funny and sweet) I'm afraid I just can't like his books (ducks quickly). I've always envied him his intriguing titles, but in the latest book I tried, The Charming Quirks of Others, I could find nothing remotely relating to the title. So tell me, does he just find something enticing phrase to adorn his books, or are others more relevant?

    1. The titles in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series do tend to relate to the books, particularly the later novels (Blue Shoes and Happiness, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, The Double Comfort Safari Club).

  6. Not exactly a title, but the translation of the title. Juliet Marillier's The Child of the Prophecy was translated into Portuguese to something like The Daughter of the Prophecy. I spend most of the book wondering if it was a mistake because in the book the child of the prophecy was a boy. In the end we discover (big final twist!) that although everyone assumed it was the boy, it turns out to be his half-sister! So you see, the title was not only misleading but a spoiler!

  7. When I first heard of Alexandra Fuller's "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight", I had a vivid picture of it being about an East End family involved in greyhound racing - whereas in fact it tells of a childhood in wartorn Rhodesia. I see our local librarians are also confused by titles: we have a section specifically for crime books, which I used to avoid, but having discovered such works as Hilary Mantel's "Bring up the Bodies" and Knausgaard's "A Death in the Family" (no murder involved; rather an exploration of the author's feelings on his father's demise), I include these shelves in my visits.

  8. Sorry, forgot name: Sally Tarbox

  9. Here's what's behind the title To Kill a Mockingbird:

    The title comes from an old proverb that it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. In the novel, Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) gives air rifles as Christmas presents to his daughter Scout (Mary Badham) and his son Jem (Phillip Alford), warning them that they should shoot only at tin-cans and finches but not at mockingbirds. Scout is puzzled by this remark and asks Miss Maudie Atkinson (Rosemary Murphy) about it. Miss Maudie says, "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, they don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." The mockingbird is seen to be a harmless creature that does its best to please its hearers by singing but is defenseless against hunters. The wrongness of killing the bird is evident, and it becomes a metaphor for the wrongness of harming innocent and vulnerable people.

  10. Two come to my mind: A Christmas Story by Somerset Maugham. You'd think it would be a cozy tale, but it is really about a prostitute in Paris. And second: Howards End is on the Landing. What a fake set up that is.


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