‘Signal’ by John Lanchester

Signal by John Lanchester, 2017

The magic trick:

Embracing the most clichéd-but-awesome twist ending

You can forgive an obvious theme, I think, right? Oh, we’re all addicted to our screens in this modern world! What an original thought. Oh well. That’s fine for a story, if you ask me.

You can forgive a heavy-handed approach to delivery of that theme, too, I think, right? There is a vaguely threatening tall man in the house. He’s a stand-in for easy luxury and technology. Ah. OK. Whatever.

But asking us to forgive both obvious theme and obvious delivery in the same story? Jeez, I don’t know. That’s a bit much. And yet I like this story. I can analyze it and criticize it and question certain choices, but who cares? I enjoyed it, and isn’t that the point?

I forgive any problems because I like the ending. There’s a classic twist ending. I won’t spoil the details. But when in doubt, use a twist ending. And that’s quite a trick on Lanchester’s part.

The selection:

I took Toby up to bed. On the way, I complimented him on having managed to find the dining room. He said that one of the other guests, the tall man we’d seen looking for a mobile-phone signal in the entrance hallway, had shown him.

“He was on his mobile the whole time,” Toby said. “It was a bit weird.”

Looking back, all I can say in my defense is that it would have been very inconvenient to pay more attention to my sudden sense of unease. Easier to keep my head down and concentrate on having a good time. I found my way to the bedrooms by turning left at a huge pot of poinsettias, and when Toby fell back onto his bed he was asleep by the second bounce.


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