A “good” novel: expectations and interpretations

“They would argue, of course, that a novel ought to be “good,” but they would interpret this term in a fashion of their own, which indeed would vary considerably from one critic to another. One would say that being good means representing virtuous and aspiring characters, placed in prominent positions; another would say that it depends on a “happy ending,” on a distribution at the last of prizes, pensions, husbands, wives, babies, millions, appended paragraphs, and cheerful remarks. Another still would say that it means being full of incident and movement so that we shall wish to jump ahead, to see who was the mysterious stranger, and if the stolen will was ever found, and shall not be distracted from this pleasure by any tiresome analysis or “description.” But they would all agree that the “artistic” idea would spoil some of their fun.”

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction” Major Stories and Essays (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1999), 576.

Everyone has different interpretations when it comes to reading a novel. There are certain expectations from the reader when getting deeper into a story that cannot and will not always be fulfilled. When it comes to characters and the situations those characters find themselves in, the reader will either be for or against the way the story plays out. When reading a fiction novel, we realize that our interpretations and expectations are just that. The author will end the story the way he or she wants. How we interpret the stories determines whether or not the novel is “good.”