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.
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.
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.
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.