Is This a Slump Which I See Before Me?

A reading slump, I mean? Only a couple of weeks ago, I was blithely crowing to Rebecca Bradley (whose wonderful blog on all things crime fiction related you really should read if you don’t already) that I didn’t know the meaning of the word, that I never encounter reading slumps because reading is such a perfect escape vehicle for me etc. etc. But pride comes before a fall and I realise I may be experiencing some of those ‘slumpish’ symptoms.

I’ve rated the last 6 books I’ve read at just 3 stars (one is actually a two star) and, while this may seem like just a long round of bad picks as I try to get through my Netgalley books, it could also mean that I am harder to please than usual. So here are the books which I damn with faint praise:

secondlifeSJ Watson: Second Life – a thriller by numbers, this theme has been better done elsewhere, and the characterisation (and motivation) of the heroine didn’t quite ring true to me.

Gillian Flynn: The Grownup – hardly a novella, more of a short story; great set-up but finishes too abruptly; not terribly original but written with panache.

Alaux & Balen: Montmartre Mysteries – charming, entertaining, something for wine lovers and Fracophiles, but a bit too short and rushed towards the end, not enough robust secondary characters.

fatesfuriesLauren Groff: Fates and Furies – wanted to like this one so badly (and I did like certain scenes, such as the fevered creative collaboration frenzy at the artist’s colony, for instance), but overall found it uneven and pretentious; I enjoyed the ‘revisiting of events’ from another POV in the second part much better than the first.

astonishmeMaggie Shipstead: Astonish Me – The parts about ballet and the quest for perfection and beauty I loved, but not so much the skipping about in time and fragmented nature of the narrative or the soap opera reveals. Ballet fans will enjoy it, and it was an easy read while suffering from migraine.

Saul Black: The Killing Lessons – really exquisitely written passages of menace and waiting for something to pounce, but the whole serial killer trope was exaggerated to the point where it felt almost like a parody (or was it a post-modern comment on the excesses of the serial killer genre). And a baddy who just refuses to die. It reminded me a little of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘No Country for Old Men’ but mainly in regards to the level of violence.

But I don’t intend this to discourage you from reading the books yourselves. I realised that I was probably in a grumpy reviewing mood when even Eva Dolan – who can do no wrong in my eyes and whose first two books I loved and rated very highly – only got a 4 (maybe 4.5) stars from me for her latest After You Die (my only complaint is that it’s very domestic and contained this time round, while her previous two had a wider social canvas).

So I pity the next author or book who comes within striking distance of my gnashing fangs at the moment. And that’s my point why you can’t trust reviews blindly: because books don’t always find us at the perfect moment, because reading slumps are a reality and everything starts to feel a bit ‘samey’, because we are only human and fallible after all.

From geocaching.com
A Slump, from geocaching.com
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26 thoughts on “Is This a Slump Which I See Before Me?”

  1. I know just what you mean, Marina Sofia. Mood/disposition plays a role in the way a book strikes the reader. So can things such as level of exhaustion, good/bad time of life, and all sorts of other extraneous factors. That’s why, in my opinion, it’s worth reading a few reviews of a book if you use reviews as a way to decide whether to read something.

    1. Or reading too many of a similar bent/topic/style…
      I actually enjoy it when I see reviewers and bloggers disagreeing about a book, as it makes me more eager to read it and make up my own mind.

  2. I think mood can definitely have an affect. But sometimes we just hit a run of not so good books and if your standards are high maybe that’s what’s happened here. But like Margot I do try to read several reviews of a book, because at the end of the day, we’re all subjective! 🙂

    1. I have to admit I’m rather stingy with my 5 stars. I mean, if The Waves, The Great Gatsby, Kafka, The Master and Margarita and Baudelaire, for instance, get 5 stars, then I struggle to put some of the recently published books in that same company.

  3. I agree there are moments when our minds are more flexible (and therefore our reviews nicer) but I also think that the more books we read, the harsher we get in our judgment– and that’s only natural. But really, you’re not that harsh! But do let me know when you’re in a great (migraine-free) mood when I ask you to review my future book 😉

    1. Oh, I could be harsher, but I don’t like nastiness just for the sake of it (or for comic effect). You have to recognise that no writer sets out deliberately to write a bad book, and that a lot of effort and thought goes into it. I just might not agree with how the effort was distributed…
      I do look forward to reading your book, although I may not be your ideal reader, as I don’t read much YA.

    1. Hope you’re feeling better now! I never don’t feel like reading (although my tummy or head might disagree), but I clearly am less generous towards the authors.

  4. I’m finding the same at the moment – even favourite authors aren’t working as well for me as they usually do. Maybe it’s the weather… The only one of these I’ve read is Second Life and it did very little for me. I’m hoping that was his ‘tricky second novel’ and that he’ll be back on top form in his next one.

    1. We have dense fog here at the moment and that probably doesn’t help either, although sometimes it makes a certain kind of fiction more appealing. I notice that Second Life did not get as high reviews as his first, so it’s not just me then…

  5. I completely agree – mood plays a big part in our judgements, more than we (like to) think, often. Which is why revisiting books from the past can be quite surprising. I did love Astonish Me, being a ballet fan too, but I can’t imagine how I could ever enjoy a book if I was reading with a migraine. I really hope your head feels much much better now!

    1. I can assure you Astonish Me was a much better choice to nurse a migraine than the alternative, Javier Marias’ ‘A Heart so White’, with his endless sentences and diversions. Now that I’m feeling better, Marias sounds lovely and coherent, but he certainly didn’t last week.

  6. Slump? Maybe, or maybe you’re just looking for something a little different and haven’t found it yet. Or just call yourself a discriminating reader!

    As for the particular titles in this post, I’ve read earlier Shipstead and Groff, and the first was a good comedy-of-manners at a summer island wedding (Seating Arrangements) while the second I didn’t know what to make of (Arcadia). Arcadia was about a dysfunctional student-mentor relationship, and I don’t know what was so appealing about it to so many reviewers. I think I’m outing myself as a member of the picky reader club by the paragraph.

    1. I can see how Shipstead would be an excellent observer of little foibles and comedy of manners. I think Groff must be a classicist in pining… but Greek tragedy does not always work so well in the modern world.

  7. Perhaps it is time to take a short break from all the reviewing and hunker down on something else. Might it be the time of year for a bit of Dickens? There is so much to choose from and there are many delights available. Happy reading

    1. Good advice! Dickens is always a reliable delight. I have done some rereading (not of him, but other favourite writers) this year, and that is generally very refreshing.

      1. I’ve read little of Dickens but decided it was time and have ordered a few and will soon dive into Ye Old Curiosity Shop… Last summer I had my way with Hemingway and now it seems to be time for Dickens. Who knows what the Spring will bring? So many books, so little time…

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