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.

 

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WWWednesday: What Are You Reading? – 12th July 2017

WWW Wednesday is a meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. It’s open for anyone to join in and is a great way to share what you’ve been reading! All you have to do is answer three questions and share a link to your blog in the comments section of Sam’s blog.

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

A similar meme is run by Lipsyy Lost and Found where bloggers share This Week in Books #TWiB.

Current:

Two easy-going crime fiction books, to keep me motivated in my job hunt as the summer holidays beckon. The first is Robert B. Parker’s Bad Business, inspired by a great analysis of the Spenser series at the Captivating Criminality conference I attended. The second is a cosy mystery for review on Crime Fiction Lover, a nice change of pace: Mary Angela’s Passport to Murder. A campus mystery combined with a failed attempt to visit France.

 

 

 

Finished:

You’ll have seen the review of The Cut by Anthony Cartwright yesterday. This was commissioned as a Brexit novel, but it goes beyond a single issue. It is in fact the portrait of a divided country and a battle of the classes and regions which fail to understand or even listen to each other. My other great pleasure this past week or two has been to reread one of my favourite novels, Jane Austen’s Persuasion. No matter how many times I read it, I always find something new to admire. The control of language and emotions is so admirable! I did a mini-readalong with Janet Emson and Laura Patricia Rose, tweeting favourite phrases and observations as we went along. Great fun, highly recommended way of reading old favourites!

 

 

 

 

Next:

I’ve just borrowed a pile of books from the library that I should be working my way through, and I also planned to contribute to Spanish Reading Month. But I craved something angry and combative instead, so here are my predictions for upcoming reads. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Naomi Alderman’s The Power

Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Dumitru Tsepeneag: Hotel Europa (transl. by Patrick Camiller)

The author-narrator, a sarcastic Romanian émigré with a French wife, tells with great insight and humor the story of a young student’s life and education as he passes from post-Ceausescu Romania through an unwelcoming Western Europe beset with dangerous problems of its own.