Un-Reviews #1

I have always felt that if I haven’t finished a book to its full conclusion for whatever reason then I can’t review it, or write my ‘book thoughts’ on them as I prefer to call it. This therefore means that anyone who reads the blog is only getting reviews of the books I do finish which are therefore going to be more positive. Thanks to something my Readers co-host Gavin told me, and I have now stolen, I have decided to do ‘un-reviews’. These will be honest, whilst constructive, posts featuring a few titles  I have tried and tested and some brief ‘book thoughts’ on why they didn’t work and why.

So without further ado here are the first titles that I have tried this year and just haven’t worked for whatever reason…

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I will admit that I don’t think the hype around this book helped, in fact it had very much put me off, yet some of you said I should give it a whirl and see, so I did. I knew the book was going to be about baseball, though ‘not all about just baseball’, because that was what put me off in the first place. Some of you said it didn’t matter but sadly it did to me. I was floundering quickly and then when I realised this seemed like it was going to be a ‘coming of age’ and ‘college life’ story I was officially lost. The writing wasn’t bad, in fact it almost won me over, but not quite and after 60 or so pages I just thought ‘no, should have stuck to my instincts’. It’s selling like hotcakes apparently so I don’t think it matters that this book did very little for me.

The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper by James Carnac

This is an interesting one. I have a strange small obsession with Jack the Ripper, in part because I find the Victorian era so utterly fascinating but in the main because no one really knows who did it. Well a written confession was discovered a year or so ago in a dead man’s possessions when they were being sorted. I imagine a few crackpots might have done such a thing but historians are puzzled by this one as the author seemed to have specific and in depth knowledge of the facts and small things people simply wouldn’t know, not even some of the police at the time. With a premise like that I knew this book was for me… but the font (see below) drove me bonkers! I understand the original document was composed on a type writer but that didn’t mean it had to be presented that way in the book. Maybe the publishers wanted the authentic feel, sadly it hurt my eyes and took all the joy from trying to read it and so I had to give up. (If anyone mentions how on a certain device beginning with a K you can change the font you might get blocked from commenting ha, ha.)

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

A book I have tried twice. First up in January when I fancied something Victorian and I loved the idea of a tale centred on a true ‘scandalous divorce’ so I thought this would be an instant winner with me. I didn’t like the main character Helen who has an affair, so I stopped and thought ‘try that again later’. I did when I was having my latest book clear out and again struggled with Helen, and then struggled with the other characters in the book Fido, Helen’s lover, and Helen’s husband. They were all rather dislikeable but not in a good way. Helen in particular riled me, she was devious and manipulative but not in a grippingly good way. I would imagine this would be a brilliant ‘neo-Victorian’ novel if you have yet to read Jane Harris or Sarah Waters (in fact I felt this was Emma Donoghue wanting to be Sarah Waters), if you have read them this does seem a tad pedestrian. I liked ‘Room’ a lot so I think maybe I had too high expectations, Donoghue + Victoriana = definite hit,  which might not have helped. It felt a little rushed, like Donoghue had to have a new book out as soon as possible after ‘Room’ and I had a sense it was going to be overly long, so I stopped. Maybe I should try ‘Slammerkin’, which is oddly what I thought this was a reissue of, oops.

Alice by Judith Hermann

I picked this book up from the library based on the cover which I think is stunning. I had no prior knowledge of the author or the subject of the book, as fate had it was announced as one of the longlisted titles for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. My excitement mounted a bit. The prose is beautiful, simple, spare and very haunting so much so I was really torn about giving up on this book, but I was, if I am very honest, getting really bored. ‘Alice’ reads like a selection of short stories in a woman named Alice’s life with which you build a picture of her as a person, and indeed her own life. The times we meet Alice though are always at a pivotal point of loss, be it a friend, ex-lover, relative etc and this gives an overriding feeling of melancholy to the novel, which was apt whilst quite draining to read, but also means in each story you know where this is going, someone is going to die, Alice is going to be there and react… and? And it was the ‘and?’ that was the problem. I didn’t feel this was going anywhere and while I loved the idea of the book I could spot how the author was doing all the background mechanics and yet Alice wasn’t coming fully formed but all those dying around her were. After three of the stories read almost exactly the same I called it quits. I was torn though as the writing was beautiful.

So those are the books that I have started but not finished this year. Only four in three months isn’t that bad actually is it? I hope you like the new feature, I don’t imagine it will be too regular but these posts will be popping up from time to time in the forthcoming months/years. Let me know your thoughts on the feature plus… Which of these have you read and do you agree or disagree with my brief book thoughts? Have you given up on any books lately, let’s make this a confessional, and if so why?


Filed under Un-Reviews

20 responses to “Un-Reviews #1

  1. I know what you mean! I just wrote a somewhat similar blog post about whether to write a review about a book I finished but just didn’t like at all. If I don’t write a review does this mean that I look like a Polly Anna that loves everything I read. But then if I do review the book I disliked immensely, how do I write the review without sounding a tad venomous. I’m still debating on what to do! I did a warm up though by reviewing a book I felt just luke-warm about!

    • I think that writing about books you don’t like and finish is definitely worth doing Tracy. I think as long as its constructive and generous critism then it’s fine, keeps the venom at bay. Though a good rant can be good to read if its backed up with examples. The same with books you don’t finish too.

  2. Ruthiella

    I haven’t read any of them, but The Sealed Letter does (still) pique my interest. I didn’t read Room, but I have read Slammerkin and liked it a lot. I haven’t given up on any books this year. Usually I slog it out. I recently finished The Night Circus and probably should have stopped reading it at page 50. I found it to be flat and lacking in any real drama or storytelling.

    • I’m glad you still want to read The Sealed Letter as I would never want to stop anyone reading a book, I just want to bring my views be they good, bad or indifferent.

      I started and didn’t finish The Night Circus last year. I fell for the hype.

  3. I think these sort of views can give a reader a better idea if they will like the book or not. If I give up after 1 chapter then I just put the book back on the shelf (or into the swapping box under the bed, out of sight) and I won’t mention it unless someone asks specifically! But if I’ve made a proper effort I do like to tell people what it was that I didn’t get on with. I don’t think it automatically puts people off, because we all like different things and have different pet hates.

    • If I only give up a few pages in then I do leave it to try again. That happened with Ali Shaw’s latest novel. It just wasn’t the right time, not that it was a bad book.

  4. sharkell

    I think it’s great that you will post Un-Reviews (I love that phrase!). It gives your blog completeness.

  5. I m in two minds re art of fielding I hate hate hyped books but love books connected to baseball as it is a sport I just don’t fully understand
    ,Alice I read last week like you I found it wonderfully written but very scant like you say same thing just slight differences in every story ,all the best stu

    • You might like The Art of Fielding to be honest Stu and the hype has died somewhat around it now.

      I thought Alice was beautifully written, I was just a little bored, every part felt the same, I could see what the author was doing but in being able to see it I was let down a tiny bit by it too.

  6. I’m struggling through The Sealed Letter at the moment. I’ve managed to get past the 25% mark and it is starting to improve but the dialogue is nauseating and it doesn’t feel authentically Victorian to me. My understanding is that it was written pre-Room but has been re-released to capitalise on Room’s success. What it’s doing on the Orange longlist I just don’t know. Anyway, I’m going to plough on (I can’t give up on books yet!) and write an honest review in due course. I think your unreviews are great, they give a different (more honest?) perspective to the glowing reviews out there. Liz

    • I thought it was a re-issued book. Hmmm that is very interesting, it shouldn’t be allowed on the longlist for the Orange should it if its been published before. Hmmmm.

      • Just an update to say that I’ve finished The Sealed Letter and actually really enjoyed it in the end so maybe it is worth perservering sometimes. Feeling bad about my last comment now – oops. Also, I think it was published in the UK for the first time in 2011 which qualifies it for Orange, don’t think it’ll win though. Happy 30th by the way!

  7. Marte

    I really like this feature.

    By the way, The Sealed Letter must be a reissue. I bought it in 2008…

  8. David

    I’m not really one to give up on books, and so far this year (41 books in) I haven’t given up on any. I nearly gave up on I.J. Kay’s “Mountains of the Moon” as it was just so hard to get used to the narrator’s voice, but I persevered and it has ended up being one of my favourites of the year so far.

    I can understand your giving up on “The Art of Fielding” at the point you did – the first five chapters are extremely baseball-heavy, and then the next couple of chapters introducing the Affenlights are a bit dry, but I think it’s probably one of those novels you’re either going to love or hate. Personally I loved it and thought it was enormously entertaining, even though I’m not a sports fan and know nothing about baseball. Having said that, I’ve read three more novels in the past few months with a sport theme and loved them all: Lynn Coady’s “The Antagonist” was shortlisted for last year’s Giller Prize and featured ice hockey, as does Richard Wagaseme’s “Indian Horse”, and I’ve just finished Liz Moore’s “Heft” which again features baseball, though to a much lesser degree than “The Art of Fielding”. And as if that weren’t enough I have just this morning received in the post a novel called “The Might Have Been” by Joseph M. Schuster, the blurb of which begins thus: “For Edward Everett Yates, split seconds matter: the precise timing of hitting a low outside pitch, of stealing a base, of running down a fly ball.” All of which means nothing to me, but I can’t wait to read it – it seems that while I don’t like partaking in or watching sport, I might just like reading about it.

    Like you, I really liked “Room” and picked up “The Sealed Letter” as soon as I saw it, but a few negative reviews have put me off reading it a bit. It does seem like Picador were hoping to cash in on the success of “Room” by releasing it – clearly it didn’t attract any UK publishers’ interest when it was published in Canada a few years ago and it wasn’t (as far as I recall) listed for any Canadian prizes. If it gets shortlisted for the Orange I’ll probably give it a go.

    • 41 books… wow!!!

      I have Heft on the TBR and I am not sure about it! I think ‘sport’ in books might have to join the horses and boats catagory of no-go books for me, unless a random gem befalls me.

      Ahhh so it was released in Canada… ok the judges of the Orange are less naughty then!

  9. Pingback: Orange Reading: The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue | Iris on Books

  10. Pingback: Un-Reviews #2 | Savidge Reads

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