Sunday Salon: A hit, miss and a maybe
Posted by BookerTalk
I’ve talked before about the issue that most readers face at some point — what to do when the book you’re reading just isn’t grabbing your attention. Do you just try to get the end as quickly as you can on the basis that:
1. it might, just might, get better or
2. you’ve invested money/ time in this book so you may as well finish it?
Or are you one of those people who believe there is little point in reading something you don’t enjoy when there are so many thousands of better books to be discovered. I used to be in the first group but in the last couple of years my attitude has moved far more to the second.
Which is why this week I had my first ‘did not finish’ experience of 2014. And just possibly my second.
Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips is a fictionalised account of a based on a real life serial murderer called Harry Powers who used lonely-hearts columns to con lonely women into thinking he would marry them. Among his victims was Anna Eicher, a single mother, and her three children, who perished in a torture chamber under his garage. He was hanged in 1932 An interesting story but one I couldn’t read further than page 30 because the author takes so long to get going. I don’t look for the literary equivalent of Hitchcock’s brick through the window approach to grab attention at the beginning of a book — slow pace is fine as long as I feel there is a purpose for that pace and a promise of a story progression at some point . With Quiet Dell I got neither. The opening was a ponderous introduction to Eicher and her family and the background of her marriage. I didn’t get any strong sense of the location in West Virginia or of the characters as real people, just a lot of detail. As if the author was clearing her throat ready for the main performance ahead. Not having a lot of interest in throat clearing, I ditched the book.
After that miss, I turned to Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas which has been languishing on the bookshelves for more than a year. I bought it as part of my plan to read writers from countries along the Equator. I wanted something by a Spanish author that wasn’t a classic in the vein of Cervantes but was rather more literary than Carlos Ruis Zafon, much as I enjoyed Shdow in the Wind. I landed on Matas who is considered one of the most distinguished and inventive of contemporary Spanish novelists and whose most recent novel Dublinesque had been shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2013.
Samuel Riba is a sixty year old recovering alcoholic whose publishing business has collapsed. Nothing in life seems to matter to him any more except what he fears is the imminent end of the book in the era of digitalisation. On the strength of a dream he hatches a plan to take three of his former authors on a pilgrimage to Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday, the day on which James Joyce masterpiece Ulysses is set. While there they will also commemorate the end of the Gutenberg era.
One hundred pages into the book we are still nowhere near Dublin. Instead we’ve had a lot of talking, a lot of reflecting and a mass of literary references, many of which I don’t understand. I can appreciate the skill that’s gone into the novel but it’s not making for a pleasurable experience as yet. I’ll keep going for a while, at least until they get to Dublin, and then decide.
Fortunately I do have one book that is an absolute hit even though I haven’t got very far along yet. You may remember in last Sunday’s Salon posting, I was sharing my excitement at the prospect of The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot by Rebecca Mead but also wondering if I could last out until my birthday before acquiring it or could I justify breaking my book buying resolution to get it before that date. Thanks to the generosity I’ve seen in the blogosphere, my dilemma is over. Tanya at 52booksorbust.wordpress.com came to my rescue by donating a copy she didn’t want (thanks again Tanya). It’s every bit as good as the reviews I’ve read indicated it would be. I just have to be careful not to read it at breakfast otherwise I will never get to work.
So that’s been my week — what are all of you up to? Any hits or misses to share?