Recently I stumbled across a comment made by a reader of mine (Caroline Tien) who expressed, quite eloquently, her complete and utter disappointment of Janet Fitch’s ‘White Oleander’ (click here for comment, and scroll to bottom). Now I love honest reviews of books and find it really refreshing when someone has the guts to say otherwise. I myself being a reader that prides herself on reading what is GOOD, not what is in vogue value that immensely. However I often find some readers simply join the herd and say how damn interesting it was, when it damn well wasn’t (*cough* 50shades *cough*).
Anyway, Caroline made some really valid points which, even though I could see and feel as I was reading it at the time, didn’t really disturb me much. But it obviously had a huge negative impact on her. She explained how Fitch ruined the story with her obsessive use of metaphors and melodrama. Among other things she touched upon the completely unlikable characters that portrayed women as unstable nympho types (feminists unite!).
I can’t discount any of the above. It does exist in Fitch’s writing, and in huge helpings, but I personally loved all the metaphors and melodrama. But it got me thinking upon the REASONS people may love one book and completely dislike another. Like most bloggers in the blogopshere, I have my little collection of titles I love to loathe, which I simply do not get (regardless of how many times I’ve sat and tried to read) or because something about the thing offends me be it literary boo-boos or otherwise.
One blogger posted about how renowned author’s also have similar problems with certain books. My favourite is Ian Rankin’s rant, as it really struck a chord:
Ian Rankin, novelist
I haven’t ever wanted to hurl it to the floor, but I’ve started Midnight’s Children several times and been unable to get past the first 10 pages. Not sure why; it’s been a few years since I gave it a go . . . maybe time to try again! I loved Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, but was told by author friends that Blood Meridian is his masterpiece. I tried it and couldn’t get halfway through. Just didn’t find it interesting. Also couldn’t finish The Road. How can a book be harrowing and pedestrian at the same time? Enjoyed The Hobbit as a teenager; gave up on The Lord of the Rings after about 30 pages
It’s so good to know I’m not the only one who HATES McCarthy (he’s so DRY) and that I’m not alone in thinking how inaccessible ‘On The Road’ was. Maybe I need to do a bit of hillbillying around the USA to get what it’s all about. I’m from the UK, we don’t really have coming-of-age-bumpkining-around novels… I fear the subject is all too remote for us.
But the sad thing about it is this; I seriously DO want to get these novels. They’re big and beautiful and highly respected. Being the only one who doesn’t get it makes me feel slightly dumb.
So, here is my inspired response to Caroline’s comment and a list of my top ten most hated books in no particular order and why. Enjoy!
1. Lost Souls – Poppy Z. Brite
Gratuitous violence, sex and gore; vampiric LGBT incest; characters who act without thinking; a plotless plot and eating of placenta’s… Lost Souls? I damn well think so! On the upside, there are oodles of Chartereuse drinking going on, which is about the only positive thing about this novel of vampire’s who have lived for so long that they don’t know what to do with themselves. If you have still NOT grown out of your teenage-ennui, then you might like this. Otherwise grown-ups stay well away!!
2. My Swordhand is Singing – Marcus Sedgwick
What could have been a good vampire novel that began to truly look around the geographical period of the times fell flat on its face with a very clichéd, stereotypical representation of the invading Turkish army. Why does this bother me? I’m sick and tired of writers representing my people as bloodthirsty barbarians who are a blight on the face of the earth. When are we ever going to see a good Turkish guy? Never it seems, because it’s just too easy (and safe) to call us the undesirable ‘other’. Do me a favour. Leave it. It’s been done to death, and I think people are getting the idea that it’s all bullshit anyway. Armies invade, they kill, they conquer. Everybody was doing it back in the day. Deal with it.
3. On Writing – Stephen King
… we were prescribed this book as required reading for our creative writing classes. I bought it, read it, and was extremely ANGRY. It was a complete waste of money and time as it was King ranting on about the time when he wiped his arse with nettle leaves when he was a boy, with several chapters thrown in about his near-fatal car accident. Very little to do with actual CRAFT of writing itself. It’s all hot-air and pompous reminiscing guys. Only buy if you truly want to read it for THAT purpose. You have been warned.
4. Free Food for Millionaires – Min Jin Lee
Don’t be fooled by the gorgeous cover. It’s a complete shambles. I love Eastern writers and writing, yet this debut novel by Korean author Min Jin Lee left a lot to be desired. Full of over-achieving young Korean characters who have all the opportunities in the world but fritter their time away feeling lost and lonely in the family and sexual relationships. All make characters were portrayed as nasty, and female ones – well, I couldn’t identify with. Avoid like the plague.
5. Woman in Black – Susan Hill
Works terrible as a novel, but could see the brilliance of it on the stage! The only scary bit was the moments describing the knocking sound in the nursery. For a more superior experience try Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘.
6. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Simply. Did. Not. Get. I dislike it when something as serious as WW2 is described in a trite, childish manner. This is the same reason why I didn’t enjoy ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjama’s’ so much either.
7. The Catcher in the Rye
One I’m ashamed to say I didn’t get either. Holden Caulfield’s immature rants failed to find a place of recognition in me. I’ve never been as petulant as all that. I think I’m seeing a pattern in my most disliked books. Most are centered around teen angst!
8. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Required reading for our creative writing class (again), and only because our lecturer at the time was such a bloody fan of Kundera. He waxed lyrical about him. I failed to see the greatness of his prose. Very inaccessible. I prefer Borges. Any day.
9. Lost World
I disliked this novel so much. And made it very clear WHY. And have had a heated debate about the merits of Melo’s writing. You can read my thoughts about it in my review.
10. Spring Flowers, Spring Frost
So bad that it has put me off reading Kadare for life. I really didn’t know where the story was going, and lack of structure really puts me off. Story-writing is an art of blending ideas, thoughts and language. If after reading halfway through it I still can’t find anything of merit, then I give up. I also suspect that it was victim of a very bad translation. Too bad.
So there it is, my embarrassing list of dead-end novels. But at least now I feel better in knowing that even well-known writers have the same difficulties.