It certainly could but only by defying expectations. [Post title based on this comment by Cora https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/06/21/back-to-flint/#comment-46478 ]
Not only are no wholly original ideas but the more out-there a story is the less accessible it is. Tropes, familiar plot structures, common refrains all make the cognitive task of reading a story easier (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_load) and up to a point, that makes reading familiar stories more pleasurable. Conversely, surprise, sudden shifts of perspective (e.g. when ‘getting’ a joke or a pun), novelty, solving a puzzle or getting an abstract reward for cognitive effort are also pleasurable. Twists, subversions of genre, reversals of tropes and other forms of surprise can cause delight — think about a baby playing peek-a-boo and the delight we get from an early age from learning about object permanence. Delight and comfort are related twins of cognitive pleasure (along with other elements such as excitement and catharsis).
Plot twists are one way to engender that delighted feeling of surprise and they have a multiple effect. The surprise itself is enjoyable but we also feel clever in being rewarded with a revelation (even if we didn’t actually work it out) and we often feel the urge to share with others precisely because when somebody watches The Sixth Sense (for example) unspoiled, we know something they don’t know and we enjoy the punchline again vicariously.
Of course M. Night Shyalaman’s career illustrates that over-familiarity with a structure can undermine the pleasure of surprise. Multiple films with a twist or revelation intended to make you re-evaluate the whole film is a signature move. His films come pre-spoiled, you can’t go into them now without an expectation that the story arcs contains such a twist, which undermines the surprise when it comes. Indeed, the twist becomes a harder move to make in general after the success of films in the 90’s by other directors such as The Usual Suspects, or Seven.
Of course a twist at the end isn’t the only way to create surprise. Undermining expectations by exploiting familiarity either of genre, character or context is another way to create surprise/delight. Rian Johnson’s film Knives Out did this, for example, by taking a whodunnit murder mystery plot, derailing that plot part way by showing exactly the who, how and why of the death, shifting to a different kind of genre thriller only to return at the end of the film to the detective revealing who the real murder actually was and thus making the surprise twist of the film being that the film really was the cosy country house mystery that it initially appeared to be (plus a whole bunch of other things).
Comfort versus delight are juxtaposed but they aren’t *opposed*. Books can have both in much the same way that somebody who enjoys murder-mysteries might well enjoy Knives Out (or not, as the case might be). Comfort and sticking to form is itself a skill and having invoked Rian Johnson already the juxtaposition is one that exists with the recently concluded third trilogy of Star Wars films: J.J. Abrams providing the two book-ends and Rian Johnson the middle in a way that demonstrates the problems with the two approaches.
Abrams, particularly with The Force Awakens, took the comfort path with a film aimed at nostalgia and hitting the plot beats and style of the original films. The film had new characters and better effects but the overall approach was to try replicate the feeling of watching Star Wars. Johnson’s The Last Jedi didn’t ditch all of that but in multiple ways (see my review) attempted to zig when the audience expected a zag. The result was less than perfect — I haven’t done a complete new triology rewatch but the middle film is my favourite and yet…it share with Abram’s films a sense of dissatisfaction. Neither approach entirely worked despite the obvious talents of both directors.
I’m talking about Dune of course and hence it is appropriate that it takes seven paragraphs about a different medium before bringing it up. Dune was hardly the first science fiction book to mix fantasy tropes with far future space travel. If anything, this mixture of faux-medievalism and planets harked back to earlier pulps (just as Star Wars echoed film serials of the 1940s) but the addition of other elements and that broad-brush sense of a bigger setting with a unexplained but deep history still felt fresh when I first read it (again, like Star Wars borrowing Akira Kurosawa).
The Abrams versus Johnson dichotomy with new works by new creators within an established fictional-universe is one way to personify the dilemma. The Abram’s approach is to provide the same thing again but different and the Johnson approach to undermine and rework, or the dichotomy between the-same-but-different versus different-but-the-same.
However, when it comes to awards, the-same-but-different has an obvious disadvantage. It is the same issue I have discussed before and it is an absolutely inherent one. Awards for creative works necessarily must single out particular works and in doing so assert that the honoured work is notable and hence different from comparable works. This in no way is a disparagement of those writers whose work is deeply within the comfort territory, Kevin J Anderson is manifestly a talented writer at what he does and I’m also mindful of how huge swathes of writing (particularly in Romance) is dismissed as less worthy precisely because it as seen as “unchallenging” or otherwise undifferentiated (and hence regarded as disposable).
Nor is this strictly an issue of formulaic writing or sticking to familiar plot arcs. Terry Pratchett is another name that is raised in discussion about under-acknowledged writers. Yet his quirky and often self-subverting novels were rarely singled out despite Pratchett himself being widely honoured (literally honoured with an OBE). However, the question of why this book rather than that book also applies and, to some degree, to which Pratchett could reliably deliver familiarity and consistency with sufficient novelty.
And yet. That very quality of familiarity is the essence of surprise. Jokes often work by a sudden shift in expectations. To quote Douglas Adams (like Pratchett, comfortingly surprising):
Ford: “It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Arthur: “What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
Ford: “Ask a glass of water.”
So arguably, the greatest surprise, the most novelty, the ultimate in standoutability is not a wholly novel work. If everything is different, aside from the book being difficult to read (because you literally have to work hard to read it) there’s also no ground from which to distinguish the figure. Highly original works don’t offer surprise because they don’t engender the same expectations or worse the expectations work against the novel leading to disappointment rather than surprise.
So *maybe* the most standoutability and hence the most word-of-mouth, the most I-shan’t-spoil-it-but-you-must-read-this, and hence the greatest chance of picking up nominations would be the (n+1)th sequel to Dune that utterly changed how you think about the original novel. Yes, that probably wouldn’t get published because it would alienate the readership who buy Dune-sequels for the pleasure of familiarity (and may well quite different books for the pleasure of surprise) but at some point (2036?) the original book will come out of copyright and then…
If that still seems improbable, consider how works like The Ballad of Black Tom have received critical acclaim and award recognition by taking the once-surprising-now-very-familiar framework of H.P.Lovecraft and by examining the overt and less-overt racism of the works and Lovecraft himself created stories that are familiar and unexpected. Of course horror as a whole genre is an art form that delights in taking the familiar and making it unnerving.