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Evie

Unfinished books

A new thread for anyone who wants to rant or simply register that they have decided not to finish a book!

I have just abandoned The Nowhere City by Alison Lurie - I took it to read on a train journey, as my current hardback read was too bulky to take with me.  It is set in California, written in 1965, about a couple who have moved there from New England, much against the wishes of the wife, who is the most irritating character I have had the displeasure to read about in a very long time.  She is the main reason I have given up, but the whole thing just seemed tired and irritating - one of those 'couldn't care less about any of these people and their silly lives' experiences for me.
Caro

Not counting Janet Evanovich's Plum Lucky which was just drivel and bored me, the last book I didn't finish was Kath Trevelyan by Jeremy Cooper.  I see it praised in an Independent review, though there is mention of over-fastidiousness writing, which is perhaps what I disliked.  (I was wondering what word I could use that wasn't pretentious and fastidious will do fine.) Full of art talk and artists (did mention a NZ artist which may me take some notice) and too much erudite discussion and not enough novel somehow.  It was very slow and deliberate and I couldn't get really interested in it.  I didn't think it was going to change or even develop much, so in the end I just stopped reading it.  

I haven't regretted that, though perhaps I regret a little my deficiencies as a reader that doesn't allow me to appreciate a book like that.  I would be interested in the comments of anyone else who has read this.  

Cheers, Caro.
chris-l

I did mention Ben Okri's 'Astonishing the Gods' a few weeks back as a book that I abandoned very rapidly. It seemed full of poetic phrases expressing very little, but couched in such portentous terms that it was clear that the writer intended us to regard them as deep and meaningful insights. I'm afraid it didn't engage me at all: I read a little of  it when I was away from home with very few other books to read, but once I could lay my hands on an alternative, this went back on the 'donate to a charity shop' pile!
Evie

Chris, I felt exactly the same way about Ben Okri's The Famished Road, of which I read about 20 pages before giving up - definitely reached 'Throw across room' on the Evieometer, for just the reasons you give about this one.  I even hesitated to give it to the charity shop, as I didn't want to inflict it on anyone else!
Caro

Oh dear - I have put this on display at our library - should I take it down? No one has been tempted by it in the last couple of weeks.  I thought Okri was well thought of.  I haven't read him myself.

Cheers, Caro.
TheRejectAmidHair

I'd have stopped reading The Shadow of the Wind, but I had to finish it because it was a Book Group read. And I can't even give it to a charity shop because there are obscenities scrawled in the margin.
Billy the Fish

I am shocked and appalled. Why not finish a book?! Show some respect, damnation!

I must confess, though, two books I failed to finish at Uni - Burgers Daughter by Nadine Gordimer, and (shamefully, as it's so short) The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, I recently inflicted on the book group I go to so I would be forced to actually finish them. I have never attempted any more Pynchon, but have got successfully through The House Gun and July's People by Gordimer, so I suspect the problem may be more mine than hers.....
Evie

I used to finish every book assiduously, but haven't done so for years - I might persevere if I feel there is something worthwhile going on, but life is too short to read books that have nothing to offer!

Caro - Ben Okri is indeed well thought of, and a friend of mine thinks Famished Road is one of the best books she has ever read, but to my mind it's all a bit Emperor's clothes, rather like Paulo Coelho (I did manage to finish The Bloody Alchemist, but only because it was for my book group, and it was also short, with The Famished Road isn't!).
Joe Mac

I recently tossed (metaphorically) 'The Shack', by William Young across the room, and didn't miss the garbage can by much.
It had come highly recommended by one friend, who now may not be a friend after I told him what I thought of it.
Well, it may not be crap, but it sure is third-rate writing. I don't care how fabulous the pay-off is if I have to wade through crapola to get to it.

Another was 'One Hundred Years of Solitude', which was not badly written, but which failed utterly (well, the failure could have been mine) to engage me. After a couple hundred page I realized I did not care about any of the characters or what happened to them, so I chucked it.
Jen M

I also struggled with, but finished Shadow of the Wind for my book group.  But I had to give up on The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova) because the story didn't engage me and I didn't care about the characters and A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (Xiaolou Guo) which seemed so promising at first, with much potential for misunderstandings due to the language barrier between the lovers, but which just turned into an excuse to describe the chinese girl's unpleasant sexual encounters.

One which I gave up on but might go back to is Emperor: Death of Kings by Conn Iggulden, which was very long.

I don't often give up on books and am usually glad to have persevered.
Freyda

Evie wrote:
I used to finish every book assiduously, but haven't done so for years - I might persevere if I feel there is something worthwhile going on, but life is too short to read books that have nothing to offer!


Absolutely, Evie. I have weaned myself off that habit. I used to feel that somehow the author would know and feel let down.  Rolling Eyes  

Evie wrote:
Caro - Ben Okri is indeed well thought of, and a friend of mine thinks Famished Road is one of the best books she has ever read, but to my mind it's all a bit Emperor's clothes, rather like Paulo Coelho (I did manage to finish The Bloody Alchemist, but only because it was for my book group, and it was also short, with The Famished Road isn't!).


I have a feeling that Ben Okri is often cited as unreadable, I've head that before from many quarters, so I haven't even tried his books. It's odd how someone who is "unreadable" can continue being published and heard about quite a bit, while other reliably readable authors seem to slip from view entirely.
Klara Z

I'm sorry to hear that you didn't enjoy the Alison Lurie novel, Evie----as Alison Lurie is one of my favourite writers and I read all of her novels at one time and loved them! I would say, however, that the one you mention isn't her best----I'd recommend 'The War between the Tates', 'The Truth about Lorin Jones' or 'Foreign Affairs'---these are the three that I read twice---always an indication to me that I've really liked a novel.

Books I was unable to finish----Romola, by George Eliot, Sentimental Education by Flaubert. But I feel ashamed of not having persevered, and one day, I intend to try again.

I HATED (and stopped reading because I hated it!), Toby Young's book, 'How to Lose Friends and Alienate People'. I had expected it to be witty, but instead, it was about an obnoxious man bragging about how obnoxious he was, as he tried to get in with some even more obnoxious celebrities. Ugh!
chris-l

There was some discussion on the 'PM' programme on BBC4 this evening on books which listeners have failed to finish. Common choices seem to be 'Middlemarch', 'Remembrance of Things Past', and 'Ulysses'. Having read each of these more than once, I was able to bask in a little glow of satisfaction. I was, however, reminded that my career as a non-completer of books goes back to a very early age.

If I am correct, it was on my third birthday that I was given a book called 'Woeful and the Waspberries'. My mother tried to read this to me on numerous occasions, but always had to abandon it as I burst into tears when poor Woeful (a monkey) was stung by the wasps who guarded the waspberries. Next year will be the 60th anniversary of this early failure, so I think I may try to mark the occasion by trying to get hold of a copy (it does appear on Amazon sometimes) and finally find out how it ends.
Hector

I'm pleased that there haven't been many books that I have failed to finish. However, there was one about 3 years ago which was Pynchon's Gravitys Rainbow.

In a way I have never forgiven myself for not finishing it as there was absolutely no reason not to. It certainly wasn't for lack of enjoyment. I think I got a little bit tired of it (it's a rather lengthy and at times diffucult tome) and decided to read a short book as a bit of a break which led to another book and yet another and I never ended up picking it up again.

It remains on my bookshelf with the creases on the spine only half way across which clearly shows that I never got to the end! As it's been so long, when I do pick it up I will need to read from the start.

Regards

Hector
Freyda

Klara Z wrote:
I'm sorry to hear that you didn't enjoy the Alison Lurie novel, Evie----as Alison Lurie is one of my favourite writers and I read all of her novels at one time and loved them! I would say, however, that the one you mention isn't her best----I'd recommend 'The War between the Tates', 'The Truth about Lorin Jones' or 'Foreign Affairs'---these are the three that I read twice---always an indication to me that I've really liked a novel.


Klara - what did you think of "Love & Friendship"? I have a real soft spot for this one, not least because it is named after an early Jane Austen book, part of her juvenilia.

I am less keen on Lurie's later books, I think she became a bit more ordinary, somehow...or maybe more women writers were writing like her. And I read some short stories that seemed to be simply based on her tourist experiences in Europe, really rather thin and disappointing. But I agree with you about the ones you've named above.
Evie

Klara - I am sorry not to have replied to your message sooner.  I think I just didn't get on with this particular book - I have read another Lurie that I did enjoy - at least, I think it was by Alison Lurie!  I forget the title, but it was about a writers' colony.  I will read more of her work at some point.
Scousedog

I only got through 50 pages of Tristram Shandy.  Wrong book, wrong time I think.
Melanie D

Scousedog! Great to see you here!  Very Happy
Sandraseahorse

Scousedog, you managed 24 more pages than me.
TheRejectAmidHair

So am I the only one here who loves Tristram Shandy?
Chibiabos83

I think I felt it was inclined to drag occasionally, but parts of it made me roar with laughter, and I think one has to salute its ingenuity.
Mikeharvey

I'm afraid that I have been unable to finish Adam Fould's recent, and prize-winning, novel about John Clare - 'The Quickening Maze'.  I had to force myself to keep reading. Some books are like that.
chris-l

Himadri, I love 'Tristram Shandy' too! It always makes me laugh. I once tried to explain it to my daughter's French boyfriend: the only quick summary I could come up with was that it was the story of the subject's life from conception to babyhood. He found this so inexplicable, that he assumed my French was at fault and said 'Oh, you mean from birth to death'. But it is so totally beyond description, that it almost covers the whole span of life.

Sterne was so completely before his time that it is hard to believe that 'Tristram Shandy'  (or some of it, anyway) was first published 250 years ago. It is certainly not a novel that I have ever had difficulty in finishing!
TheRejectAmidHair

My wie has a French translation of Tristram Shandy. From what little I remember of my French, it’s funny even in translation!
spidernick

I finished but didn't enjoy Tristram Shandy.  I wish I hadn't bothered finishing Cold Mountain nor The Little Friend.

I can only think of two books I never finished reading: the first was Engels' The Condition of the Working Classes in England, which I stopped reading, meaning to start again and never got around to doing so. The second was Last of the Mohicans, which I found turgid, especially (and this will make me sound bad!) after the Daniel Day Lewis movie version, which I loved.
Evie

Alongside Lord of the Rings, I have been reading Bridge of Sighs, a novel by Richard Russo.  I have been meaning to read something by Russo for a while, in the hope that he would be another author to add to the great canon of recent and contemporary male American novelists I love.  Sadly this one has turned out to be utterly boring!  It is not the one I would have chosen, from reading various reviews, but I saw it in the library and thought I would give it a go.

It is narrated by a 60-year-old man who lives in a small town in New York, the town he has lived in all his life.  He reminisces about his childhood and his boyhood friend, who is now a painter living in Venice.  It all sounded quite promising, but the interminable descriptions of the narrator's childhood are just tedious - I was hoping there would be some background and then we would get on to his adult life, but there is very little about the adult world and constant chapters on childhood.  The bits in Venice with the adult painter are better, but few and far between.

Anyway - I have given up on it.  I will try Russo again, and hope this one was just an off day on his part.
John Q

A book I was very pleased to loan from the library recently was Howard Jacobson’s The Act of Love.  I had enjoyed reading his Kalooki Nights earlier this year  and felt sure I would enjoy this too.   But about one hundred pages was all I managed before crying ‘enough!’   The novel is a first person narrative by an antiquarian bookseller called Felix.  Hmmm…Does not sound very auspicious does it?  But get this,  an antiquarian bookseller with a staff of four.  Yes four!   I mean, my local McDonalds does not have a staff of four.  I could never quite get over this aspect of the book  Is  Jacobson trying to be ridiculous or just failing in imagination ?   The actual plot of the novel involves Felix actively encouraging his wife and a man he knows to have an affair or that seems to be the way the book was heading as he finds this is a final proof of his wife’s desirability ..or something.  A lot of ‘man of the world’ reminiscence  on the nature of love and women and  the unpredictability of desire from our old roué of a bookseller.   But by the time all this was coming out I was only  a semi detached reader, looking for an excuse to put it down. I didn’t really need one in the end, I just couldn’t read another page.  Yes there is the problem of what authors are often trying to do with first person narratives, but whatever they are doing the reader still has to read the prose and  that I could not do any more in this book.
Castorboy

John Q wrote:
A book I was very pleased to loan from the library recently was Howard Jacobson’s The Act of Love.  I had enjoyed reading his Kalooki Nights earlier this year...  

Chibiabos83 and I enjoyed KN (there is a review on this Board) as well as The Mighty Walzer - have you read that one? Jacobson's situations and humour may take a bit of getting used to so I must give TAOL a try.
Evie

I've been meaning to read China Miéville's The City and The City for a long time, as it looked and sounded interesting.  I recently got it from the library, enthusiastically started reading...and gave up after about 50 pages.  Life is too short.  The book isn't...

I was a little suspicious when I read the review from the Times that said that Orwell and Kafka were worth comparisons...as if Orwell and Kafka are in any way similar writers, but also they are two of the finest writers of the last century - names that are easy to bandy about when anyone writes something vaguely imaginative, but I should have known we were on thin ice here.

Neither of those (and I have read Kafka in both German and English) were capable of writing a sentence as inelegant as the last sentence in this short extract:

Quote:
'Immediately and flustered I looked away, and she did the same, with the same speed.  I raised my head, towards an aircraft on its final descent.  When after some seconds I looked back up, unnoticing the old woman stepping heavily away, I looked carefully instead of at her in her foreign street at the facades of the nearby and local GunterStrasz, that depressed zone.'


Is that experimental writing, or just bad writing? I chose the latter, as I had to read it several times before I was sure I'd even worked out the syntax, and after 50 or so pages of similar prose I gave up.  Sorry to the fans of this book...
Mikeharvey

China Mieville often writes like that. It's his 'thing'.
Evie

Hmm, thanks Mike...I did worry about that.  Dreadful!  In my opinion...
Mikeharvey

I very much enjoyed his RAILSEA and his short-story collection LOOKING FOR JAKE.  He creates an absolutely idiosyncratic, oddly askew, world, and he seems to trying to find a language to match.

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