2022 Reading Year: The Disappointments
On the cusp of a new year, it’s time to look at my favourite and not so favourite books from the year that’s about to end.
Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first with a list of the books that never really hit the mark for me. Tomorrow I’ll post the list of the books that wowed me, so I can begin 2023 on a positive note.
The Magician by Colm Tóibín
The Magician is a fictionalised account of the life of the German Nobel author Thomas Mann. Though I have never read anything by Mann I knew he was a complex character who lived through a tumultuous period in history. So i had high expectations for this book. Sadly they were misplaced for this turned out to be a deathly dull book.
How could an author, faced with such rich material, turn in something so lacking in emotion and atmosphere? I don’t know why Tóibín didn’t opt to write a straight biography because so much of what I read just seemed to follow a pattern of ‘this happened – and then this happened.’ I was missing the spark of imagination and creativity.
It was so dull that, having limped along to about page 120 I decided I’d had enough, and not even the fact it was our book club choice could persuade me otherwise. Having enjoyed two previous novels by Tóibin, this was such a let down. I’m now hesitant to read the copy of The Master which I’ve owned since about 2006 because that too is about a literary great — Henry James — so I fear could be much the same.
Summerwater by Sarah Moss
The book blogging world was buzzing about Sarah Moss a few years ago when she was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel Ghost Wall. Her 2021 novella Summerwater was described as being similarly atmospheric. And to be fair it was full of a sense of foreboding that something awful would happen at a holiday camp somewhere in Scotland where the holidays of 12 people are ruined by persistent rain.
But I didn’t really get the point of the book. If it was meant to be a state of the nation book, a look at the UK through post-Brexit, pre-pandemic days, then it needed to be more a prominent theme. It felt like we were tip toeing around the topic and never reaching any point.
What I want from a Maigret novel is a whiff of Galois and the lively background of a bistro or a bar on a corner of a Parisian boulevard. I didn’t get any of those from Maigret Goes To School. Instead the Inspector spends all his time in a village in the Charente Maritime region, helping a man who is believed to have killed the former postmistress.
Maigret just isn’t the same when you take him outside of the city and split him from his trusted team members; Lucas, Janvier and Lapointe. As I remarked in my review, I’ll check more carefully before picking up my next Maigret tale. to make sure Georges Simenon has his detective firmly ensconced in his office in the Quai des Orfèvres with brief sojourns into the streets of Paris.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
Meg Mason’s novel was praised for its sensitive handling of a woman’s mental health issues, injecting a degree of humour into an otherwise bleak story. It was a really well-observed book, showing the effect of mental illness on the sufferer as well as their family members.
I had two difficulties with this book.
One was that I found the humour irritating after a time. Often times what Martha, the main character, is given to say felt predictable when it was meant to sound ultra witty.
Second problem: at no time is the nature of Martha’s condition ever named. Every time it’s mentioned, the name is replaced by a series of dashes. That worked well for a large part of the narrative because Martha herself doesn’t know what is wrong with her. But when she does finally get a diagnosis, this isn’t shared with the reader.
I felt cheated.
A Time to Laugh by Rhys Davies
it’s hard to imagine a title more ill-suited to this novel of working class strife in the valleys of South Wales. A Time To Laugh is considered one of the classics of Welsh literature, published in the 1930s though depicting life in the 1890s when coal miners go on strike in protest against a new system for calculating their pay.
There is nothing to laugh at in this book. It’s unrelentingly bleak in his depiction of hardship and the lengths to which the workers will go to get a more just reward for their labours. Bleakness I can take having read Germinal in which Emile Zola covers the same ground. But what annoyed me about this book was the polemic.
Rhys Davies wants us to understand the situation completely he gets his characters to rehearse all the arguments against and for the cause of the miners and the need for social justice. Over and over and over we get the same points made. It robbed the book of the impact you would expect given the subject matter.
Those were the lows. By way of compensation there were plenty of reading highs. I’ll share my favourites tomorrow. In the meantime, what were your most disappointing reads?
34 thoughts on “2022 Reading Year: The Disappointments”
18 mnths ago I would have agreed with you 100% about The Magician. I read it during one of the lockdowns, so having nothing better to do I finished it…with a great big DOWN on Thomas Mann and not feeling much better about Toibin’s writing.
But somehow, somewhere during 2022, I realised that I was still thinking about it. It had got under my skin. I now even think I may read a Thomas Mann book after all!!
And sorry you didn’t enjoy Maigret and the School, I thought it was fun seeing Maigret out of Paris.
It obviously made a bigger impression on you than you realised when you were reading it. I may give Thomas Mann a go at some point…
Excellent, I do like posts like this and thank you for sharing!
My most disappointing were some self-published romance novels. I somehow forgot how bad the author was and didn’t check my blog because I’m me and got suckered in by a handsome cover model 😀 At least yours are all well known!
I try hard not to read anything self -published after a few bad experiences. If an editor is involved then I have a degree of reassurance that an element of quality control is in evidence. The ones that catch me out look as if they come from a publisher but in fact the author has paid for the service
Same. There were a couple that listed editors and copy editors and I was like WTF happened to this.
You know, it’s actually really refreshing that you share the disappointments of the year, as well as the highlights. I wish more reviewers did! For me, it was Anna Karenina – not that it was bad, just that it was just fine, not the WONDERFUL INCREDIBLE MASTERPIECE that so many people told me it would be 🤷♀️
I do prefer to see a balance of reviews on a blog also. I get tired of seeing certain blog/review sites where absolutely everything is considered knock out brilliant. Can’t possibly be the case.
Hm, now I’m afraid to re-read AK in case it spoils the enjoyment of the first time I read it
Hahaha I wouldn’t take my word for it, if that’s any help! I think I went in with a weird set of expectations and a sneaky hope that it would blow my socks off – it was bound to disappoint. Hardly the book’s fault, it wasn’t a bad read at all! I gave it four stars.
Well 4 stars would be a very high rating for me!
I haven’t read A Time to Laugh but I felt very similarly about The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists when I read it (or tried to, I never got very far in). I found myself wishing that the author had just written the political pamphlet he clearly wanted to be writing. I don’t keep a tally of the books that I DNF but I feel like it was quite a high number last year!
I was thinking of reading Ragged Trousers many years ago but saw too many comments along the same lines as yours. Orwell did political commentary but few other authors subsequently have been able to emulate him
I was wondering if I should give Colm Toibin’s newest book a shot. I wasn’t impressed with “Brooklyn” and thought it was lacking depth. I thought maybe it was just that one book but it seems that the issues that you had with “The Magician” are the same issues I had with his other book. Thanks for sharing your disappointments.
My most disappointed reads were:
“Cats Eye” by Margaret Atwood
“The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith
“Normal People” by Sally Rooney
“Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris
I thought Nora Webster had more depth than Brooklyn so you might want to try that one.
Normal People irritated me – I honestly couldn’t see why people raved about this book
I will have to check out Nora Webster.
And totally agree about Normal People. I was mainly annoyed with the characters and how they treated each other. I felt like it fell flat at the end of the day and wondered why it had topped so many lists.
I decided that I couldn’t relate to Normal People because I wasn’t of the generation it portrayed. I found those characters intensely irritating
I’m perversely glad to see Summerwater on your list since I felt very out of synch with the rest of the blogging world when I found it a major disappointment too. And I’m glad to have your anti-recommendation for the Toibin – I already wasn’t enthusiastic about it, and now I feel justified in not adding it to my TBR!
We can be out of synch together. LOL
I had the exact same problem with Sorrow and Bliss. What, finally, is the point of this novel?
I remember reading about your disappointments with many of these titles, and it’s a real kick in the teeth when a book or author that’s been lauded fails to live up to expectation: I thought for example Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall was powerful stuff, but you’re not the only one to have found Summer Water lacked impact so I’m glad I didn’t consider it. Looking forward to the positives now!
Like you I abandoned The Magician, finding it dreary and requiring a level of committing to a Thomas Mann that I simply don’t have. However, I enjoyed a the Master when I read it some years ago and have been thinking of re-reading it.
I’ve also left a lot of books unfinished this year, deciding that I’m not going to persist with books that don’t spark my interest or imagination quite early. Too many books to read, not enough time ….
I have Sorrow and Bliss on my pile but have dialled back my expectations. I gave up too many to remember!
I can share some of these disappointments. Our book group read Sorrow and Bliss a couple of months ago. About two thirds of the group loved it, while a third (including me) didn’t. I don’t know whether it’s relevant or co-incidence that Team Dislike were mainly the older readers? Sarah Moss similarly didn’t do it for me. And I’ve now read so many disappointed reviews of the Tóibín that I’m not tempted to give it a try – especially as I don’t know Mann’s work (she confessed, shamefacedly).
I’m sad to see Maigret on the list, I’ll have to go through my collection and see if I have it. In his later years he spends quite a bit of time in the country, and we get to see a little of France’s class system. I DNF general fiction from the library quite often, but I can’t think of a literary work this year that I couldn’t go on with.
I loved Sorrow & Bliss but I get why it didn’t work for you.
I’ve pretty much abandoned Sarah Moss – I know many readers love her work but I find it all a bit the same.
Hello, this is a nice post because it makes you think what time might have been misspent when reading something not enjoyable but I seem to have done lots and lots of non-enjoyable reading in 2022. I got to know some new authors of cozy mysteries and two that came to mind are: Tracy Andraghetti; is a like-dislike of her books; her Nona in particular trying to marry off the main principal by the name of Frankie Amato; I still have one more of her book to read but don’t when this will happen. Another author is Bonnie Hardy with her Lily Rock mystery books and the dog name Mayor who everyone worships or so it seems…it is not my kind of reading but her writing is mechanically sound.
I don’t ever make sense; so do move on and thank you for sharing.
I went through the fiction I read this year and came up with the following which disappointed me somewhat:
‘The Hero of this Book’ by Elizabeth McCracken
: ‘Mercury Pictures Presents’ by Anthony Marra
‘The Pages’ by Hugo Hamilton
‘The Big Nowhere’ by James Ellroy
‘We Had to Remove this Post’ by Hanna Bervoets
‘The Dogs of the South’ by Charles Portis
Yes! Completely agree on Sorrow and Bliss, I also felt cheated
I set a person best for DNF this year!
I suspect I might have too but haven’t done a tally yet
So did I… I’ve never abandoned so many books before.
Is it because there are more disappointing books, or because I’m more intolerant, or because I’ve been choosing unwisely? I don’t know, but I hope it’s not going to keep happening.
Good question! The older I get and the more I read, the pickier I get! Lol 😂 Also, I’m a frequent victim of FOMO! I DNFed some very popular books this year.
I abandoned Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell – just couldn’t get on with it…
Satire is tricky to get right.