Books I Expected to Love, But…

There are plenty of mediocre or badly written books, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Instead, these are books with an interesting concept, well written, but which somehow missed the mark with me. Perhaps I was expecting too much. Perhaps I am suffering from a comparison disease (‘I would have written this differently’). Or perhaps the writer’s style just didn’t click with me. So these are three recently read books which disappointed me, sad to say. They won’t be featuring on my #EU27Project page.

Dumitru Tsepeneag: Hotel Europa

This was going to be precisely my cup of tea: a sarcastic, world-weary Romanian writer who has emigrated to France, is suffering from writer’s block, and is tracing the path of a young student (and his mates) during and after the fall of Communism in Romania and through an increasingly hostile Western Europe. We transition abruptly from past to present, imaginary to ‘real’ as the writer communes with his fictional characters, amalgamates them, invents new stories for them, identifies with them, makes himself part of the story. It’s a playful metafiction as well as a road trip with many memorable moments and plenty of nasty characters.

And yet it lacks universal appeal: there is something there that will be comprehensible or relatable only to those who have a very intimate understanding of recent Romanian history. And even those readers (like myself) might get a little bored towards the end. The events described are often shocking, occasionally funny, but above all repetitive. Simply too long and confusing.

Mohsin Hamid: Exit West

Another one I really wanted to like, but the rather cold omniscient narrator did not work for me. I believe this is intended to be a sort of modern fable. In that case, I would have preferred it to have more magical or surrealist elements, while still depicting the harsh realities of being caught up in a town under siege or being unwelcome refugees. A sort of universal parable of being unwanted. If it was intended to be a moving depiction of refugee plight, then the tone was too detached and it could have done without the appearance of mysterious doors as shortcuts to other parts of the world. 

The parallels between the gradual disintegration of the home town and the unravelling of the relationship between the two young lovers was the most interesting part, but I felt insufficiently invested in them emotionally. It seemed more a relationship of convenience or because of the lack of other opportunities rather than real love (and that is perhaps what the author intended, but it was a missed opportunity to make us feel more on their behalf). Above all, I found the alternate random events happening simultaneously in other parts of the world a distraction which added very little to the story. Or perhaps I am too dim to understand its metaphorical import.

Ileana Vulpescu: Arta Compromisului

This book simply tries to fit in too much. It tries to be a fresco of Romanian society during and after the fall of Communism, how so many people are compromising their ideals and values in order to survive, while others clearly have very little moral scruples to compromise at all. Yet there are simply too many people, names, stories. The whole book becomes a series of conversations about the events and about other people, with everyone making speeches which sound rather preachy and political. It almost feels like the author would have been better off writing a series of essays to express her disappointment with the way Romanian society was developing at the time. Or else she should have stuck to a much narrower canvas, the story of just a few people, with more actual show than tell.

[Oh, and this is not the author’s fault, but the cover is truly awful, what do you think?]

Do you have any books like that? Which you liked in theory or on the blurb and then just didn’t get along with them in real life?

P.S. I will be on my poetry retreat all of this week, and I’ve heard the WiFi and mobile phone reception is pretty dire there (that was one of the reasons I was keen to go). So I may not be able to respond to your comments right away. But do leave one, because I will be in touch when I get back.

 

14 thoughts on “Books I Expected to Love, But…”

  1. To me, it’s always especially disappointing when that happens with a book you expected to really like, Marina Sofia. It’s bad enough when you have no expectations about a book, and are disappointed. It’s worse, I think, when you feel let down by a book you really hoped to love. I know the feeling! Oh, and that last cover? I agree with you.

  2. I always find it much tougher when I don’t get along with a book I really expect to like rather than one I had no particular expectations about. I’ve just written a less than glowing review of the latest Horowitz novel, knowing that my disappointment with it is as much because of my too high expectations as with any real problem with the book. Sometimes I think it would be better to read books without knowing either the title or the author’s name… and yes, that cover is awful!

    1. I felt like that with the previous Horowitz (Magpie Murders) – really looking forward to it & then deflated when it failed to excite for no particular reason.

  3. I think the disappointment is so much worse when you come to a book with high expectations. It doesn’t matter if you go into a book open minded not expecting much, because then you can just move on. I’ve had this when a book has come with glowing endorsements from people I trust but I just can’t get on with it. C’est la vie – we’re all different readers!!

  4. I do hope you enjoy your retreat Marina.
    I think I feel more disappointed by books which have an interesting (to me) concept than those more main-stream books that fall short of the mark – I

  5. Disappointment sometimes happens early in a book for me, usually when I realise I don’t like the style at all. Also when plot and style are good, but the author should have cut things shorter. I’m now plodding through Umberto Eco’s superb “Il cimitero di Praga” which unfortunately runs 516 pages… I’m halfway and getting bored… I will try “Exit West” though, because I was mesmerized by “The reluctant fundamentalist”.

  6. I’ve read a few blog posts where people are disappointed with Exit West, so you’re definitely not alone there. And yes, that last cover is just horrible – how many people had to sign that off, & what were they thinking?! Hope your retreat is going well 🙂

  7. I heard mixed reviews about Exit West too. And some very harsh ones that said it feels like a novel written because non-Indians might pick it as a shortcut to have a diverse book on their reading pile. So you are not alone in this. It might be that the media and publicity was hyped up. I have not read the book; so cannot comment about it.

    The last cover is horrible! Oh God

  8. I hate disappointing books that I’ve looked forward to reading. Am reading one now that to me glorifies war and the military, when I’m a lifetime anti-war person.
    I guess I won’t read “Exit West,” as there are too many negative comments about it.
    I’ve picked up two books, one new, one older, which I couldn’t get into — but I’m blaming small print and aging eyes. If I get larger print or new glasses, I’ll get them another chance.
    Hope your poetry retreat goes well.
    And I think the publisher confused the third cover here with one for “How to Win at Poker.” Ugh!

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