Spoilers: how annoying are they?

I have nearly finished editing the fifth and possibly final draft of my novel “The Last Englishman” (see a previous post for an excerpt). So rightly I feel quite proud of myself, especially as this is my first novel. I have had some good comments and feedback from the small select band of people who have read drafts of it so far. All of which is good. But now I have come up against an unexpected problem.
I was in the pub last week and one of my friends who has read my novel was explaining how much she had enjoyed it. This is all well and good but then I come to the problem. Whenever people find out that I have written a novel they inevitably ask me “What’s it about?”. A natural question you might think.
But here’s my problem. I don’t actually want to tell them. And the reason for that is I hate spoilers. With a passion. I want them to read it and find out for themselves. But if I don’t tell them what it is about then they won’t want to read it.
Now I know you are all wondering what my book is actually about. I know, I can tell. Well, whenever anyone asks me I mutter vaguely about how it’s the story of a man alone, who is possibly the last man on Earth. Telling people this is a mistake, because then they want to know how come he is that lonely figure. What happened to everyone else? What catastrophe befell the planet? Obviously I can’t tell them that because that really would be a spoiler. You HAVE TO READ THE BOOK to find that one out.
For me one of the biggest joys in reading or watching a film is the anticipation of discovery. The twists and turns, cliffhangers and unexpected moments that make good books and films such a thrill.
This week I intend to go and see the film ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ and saw a review of it that was spot on. It explained how the film was really good (in the reviewers opinion) but made all the better if you know very little about it before you see it. It even recommended that you don’t watch the trailer. There were other reviews I avoided because they were helpfully tagged with ‘spoiler alert’. Why you would want to write a review with deliberate spoilers I have no idea?
It irks me when people discuss films I haven’t seen in front of me and unwittingly spoil it for me. Am I being sad?
I remember seeing the first ‘Alien’ film in the cinema when it first came out and not knowing anything about it. The tension was electric. The experience has stuck with me like glue ever since. Nowadays if I see a movie when I have already seen the trailer I often feel disappointed, partly because I sometimes feel I have already seen all the best bits.
Now I realise that readers and film goers need to know something about these things before they part with their hard earned cash. And I know that I will need to write some teasing blurb about my novel to entice the reader. I just feel that there ought to be some kind of balance between mystery and enticement.
Maybe I am being too precious about it. I had another experience last week that made me realise that different people enjoy things in different ways. Obvious really. I was with a friend who downloaded one of my short stories onto her iPad, while I was there. Once the story appeared on the shiny screen she did a thing I would never dream of doing. She automatically flicked to read the last page of the story. Some people, it seems, like to know the ending before they start. It doesn’t distract from their enjoyment like it might mine. Are you someone that does that?
So maybe I should be a bit more open about my book, even if it doesn’t come naturally…
What do you think?

© 2012 Simon Poore