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.

 

Six in Six Book Meme

I found this delightful book meme with Margaret over at Books Please. It was something started by Jo at The Book Jotter. You summarise six months of reading, sorting the books into six categories. Jo suggests plenty of categories, but you can also create your own. The same book can obviously feature in more than one category.

Here is my version for 2015, with links to my reviews where those exist.  I had a hard time not using the same book more than once for each of the category – that was the one rule I set for myself, so that I could present as many books and authors as possible. It is fair to assume that books I loved and authors I want to read more of are interchangeable.

6 Books I Loved

Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji – the best three months of reading, total immersion in a very strange world, yet still fully relatable

Ansel Elkins: Blue Yodel

Tom Rob Smith: Child 44 – particularly effective when read just before watching the film, and comparing the two

Jean-Patrick Manchette: Fatale

Eva Dolan: The Long Way Home (although I could just as well have put her second novel Tell No Tales)

Jonas Karlsson: The Room

6 New Authors to Me

Sara Novic: Girl at War

Sherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Karim Miske: Arab Jazz

Kanae Minato: Confessions

Metin Arditi: Loin des bras

Yasmina Khadra: L’attentat

Some of them were more exciting than others, but I think I want to read more from each of these authors I’ve just discovered.

6 Books that Didn’t Live up to Expectations

Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train – entertaining enough, but quite average for my taste, despite its resounding success

Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation – poetic and thought-provoking, but ultimately too fragmented and cold for me. Perhaps suffering also in comparison to Elena Ferrante’s ‘The Days of Abandonment’, which I had read just before.

Matthew Thomas: We Are Not Ourselves – moving, well-written in parts, but just too long and trying to squeeze too much in

John Enright: Blood Jungle Ballet – I loved the first book in the series so my hopes were perhaps too high for this one

Vesna Goldsworthy: Gorsky – The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books, so I thought I’d love to see it transposed into present-day London with all of its foreign money. But alas, it didn’t add anything new…

Stefanie de Velasco: Tigermilk – not the Christiane F. of the new generation of Berliners…

6 Authors I Want to Read More of

Elena Ferrante

Emily St. John Mandel

Laura Kasischke

Virginie Despentes

Kishwar Desai

Tana French

Would you look at that? They are all women!

6 Books I’d Like to See Translated into English

Hubert Mingarelli: La Route de Beit Zera

Jeanne Desaubry: Poubelle’s Girls

Jeremie Gue: Paris la nuit

Liad Shoham: Tel Aviv Suspects

Fouad Laroui: L’etrange affaire du pantalon du Dassoukine – or several other books by this author, he hasn’t been translated at all into English

Friederike Schmoe: Fliehganzleis

Sorry, they are nearly all in French. That’s because I can only talk about those books written in languages I can read other than English – and I’ve read far fewer German books this year and next to no Romanian books. This may be about to change…

6 That Don’t Fit into Any Category But I Have to Mention

Megan Beech: When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard – spoken poetry by a very young, talented and opinionated woman poet

Tuula Karjalainen: Tove Jansson: Work and Love

Daniel Pennac: Comme un roman – how schools or adults can kill the love of reading; and how to reignite it

Ever Yours: Van Gogh’s  Essential Letters

Etienne Davodeau: Les Ignorants – learnt so much about comic books and vineyards, all in a humorous way

Sarah Ruhl: 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write – something any mother/creator/professional can relate to

 

What If Books Disappoint You?

This weekend has been a rare one of reading disappointment, when I expected it to be as comfortable as a cocoon.

Patricia Highsmith
Patricia Highsmith (Photo credit: bhlogiston)

I embarked upon Patricia Highsmith’s ‘Found in the Street’ (one of her last novels, published in 1986) with the expectation that I would be intrigued, baffled, amused and chilled to the bone. In the past, I have always found her to be reliably good: slightly sinister, with dark humour and acerbic observations of people.  The sly observant eye and mordant wit were still there, but the story felt tired to me. There was not enough suspense, too many everyday chores described by several characters, too many lengthy descriptions and missed opportunities… By the time a crime was committed, I was past caring. It’s the first time that this author did not meet my expectations, which just goes to show that no one can be uniformly brilliant.

So then I turned to a light-hearted local read ‘Fric en Vrac à Carouge’ by Corinne Jaquet, a Swiss journalist turned crime and children’s novelist, who has a series featuring Commissaire Simon set in different neighbourhoods of Geneva. Even the pleasures of street- and café-spotting could not make me care for the rather slow-moving plot. I abandoned after Chapter 12 (yes, that is a new development this past year: I have been able to leave books unfinished with only a slight pang of guilty conscience).

NakedSingularitySo, if local colour and favourite authors do not provide reliable comfort, where can you turn to, how can you avoid disappointments? In my case, there was a surprising answer. ‘A Naked Singularity’ – a door-stopper of a book by Sergio De La Pava – is a book I had tried to read before a couple of months ago, but got lost. I now opened it again and was immediately captivated. It’s like a radio and merely requires a little re-tuning of the mind. Once you are on the right wavelength, it works beautifully. Early days yet, but let’s hope it continues to please.

Over to you, now. Have you had occasional disappointments with topics or authors which you thought you loved unconditionally? And what are your strategies for dealing with such disappointments?

This is…

Not the life I wanted to lead

Not your average day of loopy well-being

Not the family I recognize as brethren

Not the word I dreamt up flowing from pen, blood and heart

Not the tensile stretch of muscle used in utmost longing, reach to beyond

No picture-book happiness of domesticity tamed

No anger or despair allowed to creep in

Save in the tumble – a little too loud – of ice cubes in a glass

as soon as cocktail hour will allow.

Fall into the flab of inane self-expression

with hiccup, giggle and gin.

Photo credit: cocktailbuzz.blogspot.com
Photo credit: cocktailbuzz.blogspot.com

 

Join me for Open Link Night over at dVerse Poets Pub, the friendliest online poetry forum.  Drinking or writing a poem about drinking is not strictly compulsory, though.  

 

 

The Sceptic

There’s no fun in joining in

but what’s the point of staying out?

Every cliché in the book

has been tossed, bandied about.

Every shadow, every smile

which has flitted on her face

he’ll remember and attempt

on his heart’s parchment to trace.

She spelled wonder, enchantment, light,

the earthly pull of love divine.

But arms enchain, roots entangle,

metal corrodes on every sign.

Better safe, better far,

diminish your attention span.

She promised so much:

He ventured forth leonine man,

Came back worn to bone

Insignificant also-ran.

Passive Fairytale

DisneylandShe was born.

Left home to find herself

And in the process

Found him.

 

He showered her with love

Passion

Compassion

Money

Energy

Dreams

Schemes

Later…

Words

Pain

Thwarted ambitions.

 

No gain.

Shame fell her way.

Fell her away.

Drained her sap.

Pushed her back

And down and down,

All but drown,

In frozen lake

Of sneering snake.

 

Hiding

Biding

No more time

And blind chime.