Category Archives: Un-Reviews

Leaving The Luminaries…

Giving up on a book for me is no easy thing. I have always had the feeling that people don’t tend to talk about the books they give up on as it seems like a failure. Here I may just be imposing how I feel onto everyone else, as for me if I give up on a book I always feel rather cross with myself. Though not as wracked with guilt as I used to get when I had the, now seemingly rather mad, attitude that any book I started I simply had to finish. I do have a page 50, with a page 60 clause, rule now with books and if they aren’t working by then, then it is fine (and indeed time) to put them down and move on to something else. This year I have noticed though that there have been a few books I have simply stopped half way through one of them being one of the most infamous books of the year, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries

Luminaries

It’s all a blur…

In so many ways this should have been a book that I adored. A tale set in 1866 containing mystery, murder, madness, fallen women, I could go on. In many ways the tale that Walter Moody finds himself soon embroiled in after his arrival in the gold mining town of Hokitika, in New Zealand, could fall under one of my very favourite genre’s ‘the sensation novel’. As I started I had the highest of hopes, especially hearing the author loved Wilkie Collins, we were set to be best friends and this book would cement that friendship. Instead I found myself stuck and feeling more and more demoralised as I went on.

I have tried and tried, or struggled and struggled as the case may be, to love or at least like The Luminaries three times this year. The first time I simply read it in big gulps, the chapters initially being (a rather densely packed) 40 pages in length, yet these were taking me ages to read. I kept notes of all the characters and goings on, how the spider’s web was being woven etc, yet still I couldn’t get a grip on it all. So I stopped, it was making me resentful. Then I tried listening to the audio book, this worked until I got a few chapters past my previous pit stop and then as more and more characters and twists were introduced I found myself once again dumbfounded. A few weeks ago I tried again from the beginning -reading a chapter at night, then listening to it again the next day, then reading the next chapter the next night and so on and so on. This got me further but the same issues came up, too many characters, too many twists and I also started to feel like I was being played and not in an altogether friendly way.

Eleanor Catton is clearly a very clever woman, yet something about The Luminaries becomes a little smug along the way. The characters are clearly symbols and pieces of a much bigger jigsaw piece (from reviews like the lovely and normally very patient and positive Rachel have confirmed this) yet for me this was all done at the expense of getting to know them and giving a monkey’s about them. Catton has over 800 pages in this book, I started to feel if she spent as much time fleshing out each character so I started to like them and spot differences in their personalities rather than focusing on retelling and retelling the story from points of view and endlessly describing the scenery I might have got to grips with it. Whilst I understand all characters are there to tell a story or be a part of a plot or a device I am a firm believer that you should never see it. I could see the strings linking the characters to their puppet master (that is simply an analogy, not meant to sound rude) above on one too many occasions and it kept breaking the spell.

Of course the one thing I should remind myself more often is that, like people and music and many other things, we can’t always get on with everything we read. It doesn’t stop me from being really cross when this happens though, the last time it happened  on this scale was with Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad which oddly enough was a book as equally fawned over whilst I was sat wanting to throw it around the room. Interestingly that book I also went between reading, listening and even using the app – though I finished it maybe I need to learn if I need that much help with a book then it is a lost cause to me. It is horrid to feel like the only one at the party not really enjoying yourself and I wonder if without all the buzz on blogs and social media maybe I would have given up on The Luminaries long before, instead I wanted to join in and so only finally gave up the ghost last week. Sigh.

I don’t tend to talk about the books I don’t finish or why I don’t finish them, but in this case because the book has been such a huge book of the year and because it has taken up so much of my reading time I thought I should, maybe I should more often – though these wouldn’t be reviews, you can’t review a book you haven’t finished can you? I could bring back unreviews I guess, what do you think? Also if any of you have tried or even conquered The Luminaries I would love your thoughts on it be they good, bad or indifferent. I would also love to know about the books everyone else has loved or have reached mass critical acclaim and have left you thinking ‘WTF?’ Ha! Oh, and anything else about giving up books really, not that I ask a lot of you all!

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Un-Reviews #2

Earlier in the year, in fact so far back I was still in my twenties (starts weeping), I started what I thought was going to be a rather regular new feature of Un-Reviews. A series of posts where I could discuss the books I didn’t finish and, without being harsh or mean (though possibly wry), I could explain why I didn’t get on with the book and couldn’t finish it. I have discovered, more surprisingly than I thought, that I either a) keep reading the books I don’t initially like b) don’t start many books I don’t like, because this is the second of these posts and its some months later. Anyway let’s get to the three books in question shall we?

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

I have to admit that I wouldn’t have read this book if I hadn’t bought it for The Beard’s mother as she so politely asked and as there was a few days between its purchase and seeing her I thought ‘well I should really give it a go’. Only twenty pages in and I was thinking ‘this prose is not for me’ but also ‘I don’t believe a girl like Ana could exist’. For those of you who may have been to Mars in the last few months and so don’t know what the book is about Ana, a fresh graduate and seemingly importantly a virgin, who by chance meets Christian Grey a man who likes to domineer in more than just his business ventures and with whom she starts an S&M relationship with. I admit I was intrigued by Christian and in another authors hands why he was into what he was could have been really interesting but for me this book, and the totally unbelievable Ana, were just written for the sex bits, which I of course went on and rushed to and found mildly titillating the first time, then boring and slightly offensive the more I read. If you won’t take my word for it here is the review of The Beards mother sent via text…

“Managed two thirds of the book, was very badly written, trite and totally without humour. As erotic as DIY shopping, with maybe a few more uses for the items those shops stock. Jilly Cooper in her heyday far more erotic. Can’t for the life of me think why it’s become so big, but once it starts its self perpetuating hence why I wanted to read it. There that’s me done, have passed it onto John [her husband].”

The Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle

I feel slightly mean writing about this one as the publishers very kindly sent it me (the publishers of Fifty Shades said they sent it but it has been lost in Royal Mail, see even postmen are reading it) as it was set in Florence and so would be ideal for my trip. I could see why they would think so as the story is a thriller set in the 1940’s, when Italy was invaded by Germany, and then in the present when an aged partisan is killed by being shot and having filled himself with salt. The crime element of the book and how it was connected with the past almost made me read on past page one hundred and something but sadly the author seemed to have a tic which just grated on me. Too many similes, way too many, I think in one paragraph I counted six ‘likes’. It became so noticeable it took over from the prose and I started to sigh a lot. When a police procedure gone embarrassingly wrong and was compared to ‘like grannies disco dancing’ I decided enough was enough. A shame as it had a lot going for it.

Ancient Light by John Banville

I have been told by so, so many people that I must read John Banville (Gran is a big fan) and so as everyone was saying it was a dead cert for the Man Booker I thought I would give it a try. I don’t know why this book didn’t work for me, for a start I really liked the prose in many aspects, I just didn’t get hooked and was longingly looking at other books on the TBR. This tale of Alexander Cleave (and his wife’s) grief was intriguing as was how Alexander consoles himself in the memory of an affair he had with his best friend’s mother when he was younger, but something wasn’t there. Maybe this just wasn’t the time for me to read it? Since I have put the book down I have learnt that the narrator is also in ‘Eclipse’ and ‘Shroud’ and so maybe subconsciously I felt I was missing part of the story, would I go back and read those books, hmmm, I am not sure. I liked something about the prose though so maybe I should try one of his other books instead, any recommendations?

So those are the latest books I have started but been at a loss to finish for various reasons. What about all of you? Have any of you read these and managed to get all the way through, if so what am I missing?

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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?

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