Just over two years ago I wrote here about how I like to be spoiled. I talked about being a regular end-peeker when reading non-romance books, after being burned a few times when the main character’s love interest in a mystery series was killed off. In Chick Lit, end-peeking lets me know if the heroine is going to end up with anyone (not always a sure thing) and if so with whom (because there are often multiple love interests). Well, I’ve had a few experiences lately that have me questioning not only end-peeking, but also what constitutes a spoiler and what doesn’t.

The first bad spoiler experience happened several months ago while I was reading S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. In this mystery Christine wakes up each morning with no memories of her past. Some mornings she wakes up thinking she’s in her twenties, sometimes she thinks she’s just a young girl. Each morning her husband (a complete stranger to her) has to explain who she is, who he is, and that her loss of memory is the result of an accident nearly twenty years earlier. Now this may sound boring and repetitive, but thanks to the author’s skills I was riveted. However, after about 20 pages I began to wonder what was going to happen, hoping that Christine might regain her memory and realize that she loved her husband. So, I peeked at the end. Big mistake! This isn’t simply the case of discovering who killed the murder victims. By reading the end I spoiled all of the suspense the author builds up over the book. I finished the book, but with every page wished that I didn’t already know the outcome.

The second experience happened with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. If you’ve missed out on the hype, this megahit mystery tells the story of a marriage in which the wife goes missing and the husband is a key suspect. That’s not a spoiler; that much information is everywhere on the web. But most quality reviews avoid telling much of anything else about the plot. There’s been an active thread about this book at AAR, as well as a spoilers’ thread that I studiously avoided. I’d read enough reviews of the book to know that this is one book that should not be spoiled. I downloaded the book in audio and intended to begin listening on a recent vacation. Then I made a major mistake. I went back online to reread a review about it and inadvertently pulled up a different review that completely spoiled the plot. I was distraught and have yet to begin listening to the book.

I’ve read several mysteries and Chick Lit books since those two experiences, and haven’t end-peeked in any of them. And I haven’t regretted the lack of spoilers; I’ve either enjoyed or not enjoyed the books, but have found myself wondering in each what would happen. And for now, that wonder is a good experience.

These experiences have me wondering more about what constitutes a spoiler in romances. In traditional mysteries spoilers are relatively clear-cut. But in romances, where we know there will be a happy ending, spoilers seem more nebulous. In fact, I’ve been thinking about this so much that I’ve struggled writing reviews for several romances that I truly enjoyed. The general rule at AAR is that anything that appears on the back cover isn’t a spoiler. Beyond the back cover, we try not to reveal major plot points that occur very far into the book, much past the 1/4 or 1/3 mark. Usually these are easy guidelines for me to follow. But what about when an event happens late in the book that I believe will be a major deal-breaker for some readers? I generally try to allude to these in vague terms without giving away details, but it’s not always easy.

What about you? Are you an end-peeker, or are you horrified at the very thought? What about spoilers in romances? And finally, please don’t reveal any spoilers for Gone Girl in the comments section, but should I go ahead and listen to the book even knowing what happens?

– LinnieGayl Kimmel

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I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.