Okay, so I’m going to be a bit controversial with this blog post and instead of raving about books that I’ve enjoyed, I’m going to discuss some of the novels I wasn’t so keen on. Usually I prefer to focus on the positives on this blog; I’m not here to tear any writer apart because writing is a hard and critical business.
But I’ve always felt that at times there is a huge gulf between the books that are shortlisted for awards by the literary establishment and the books that the average reader enjoys. And when I say ‘average reader’, I’m not talking about the person who only reads on holiday.
I’m passionate about books and I enjoy challenging myself and seeking out new authors. I get excited to read something unique, to see a writer who has successfully experimented with form and plot. But ultimately, I want to enjoy my reading time. I don’t want to spend a month forcing myself to read a novel because it won an award and received rave reviews in the newspapers, when it doesn’t hold my attention or imagination.
The books listed below have all been hugely successful and no doubt have many admirers. But unfortunately they weren’t for me; this is why.
Room, by Emma Donoghue
Room is about a young woman who was kidnapped and held by her captor as a sex slave, during which time she gave birth to a son. As the book is written from the perspective of the five-year-old boy, I anticipated a chilling and heartbreaking read as he described things that an adult would understand very differently. For me, the biggest problem was that the book’s greatest asset was also its downfall. Having a five-year-old as a narrator is ultimately restrictive, as his observations just don’t have the emotional range of an adult.
The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
When I studied for my MA Creative Writing, the tutors would hammer into us over and over again, ‘show don’t tell’ and heavily criticise anyone who used too many adjectives. This book is a perfect example of how you can over-write descriptions.
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
This is a really ambitious novel and I always admired the concept. However, I felt that some of the individual stories weren’t as interesting or exciting as they could have been and for such a hefty novel this causes a problem.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
One of those books that it took me several goes to read as I kept stalling at the first chapter. I wanted to love it as I find the symbolism striking and love the idea of finding beauty in bleakness. But the character of Heathcliff was just too irredeemable; there was nothing in him to empathise with.
Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh
Again, I struggled to read this novel and I think it’s still sitting on a shelf somewhere with my bookmark lodged around chapter three, even after the best part of a decade. The problem was that a lot of the story is written almost phonetically in Scots dialect. Every time I tried to read I had to concentrate too hard on deciphering the words on the page, which made reading a chore.
The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
Do I need to explain this one? Despite its phenomenal success, The Da Vinci Code has almost become a symbol of the ills of popular literature for anyone who is passionate about books and good quality writing. Yes it has an exciting plot, but the writing could be better. A lot better.
Of course, this list is totally subjective; just because I don’t rate these novels doesn’t mean other people feel the same.
Which novels have you struggled to enjoy despite the rave reviews?