American authorsBook ReviewsFinnish authors

3 lousy books to confuse and frustrate

I thought when I retired that I’d not only have oodles of time available to read but that I’d be quite prompt with my reviews.  Neither has proved to be the case.

Instead of filling my days with reading and blogging, I’m juggling Pilates classes, the gym, gardening, National Trust volunteering, coffee shop visits with friend. Not that I’m complaining. It just means I have less time available to write content for the blog.

It’s been getting steadily worse over the last two years. Despite best intentions about wanting to do justice to each book I know I’m never going to catch up if I try and write full reviews for everything.

So I’m going to be sharing some mini reviews until I get the backlog down to a reasonable level.

Let’s start with three books that turned out to be so disappointing I had to abandon them well before the end.

Reading Through the Night by Jane Tompkins

Published by University of Virginia Press., June 2019.  My copy was provided by Net Galley in exchange for a fair review.

Reading through the nightJane Tompkins was a literature professor but when she succumbed to myalgic encephalomyelitis (also known as chronic fatigue syndrome), reading was about the only activity she could manage.

Her relationship with books and the experience of reading changed substantially. She began to examine whether instead of reading for pleasure, a close examination of a book could provide profound insights into her life.

Her path of introspection begins with Sir Vidia’s Shadow by Paul Theroux, a memoir of his friendship and falling out with the Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul.

The book contains a detailed discussion of this book and Tompkins reactions to different episodes.

I happen to have read – and thoroughly enjoyed – Theroux’s book so I could relate to some of Tompkins’ comments. But she went overboard with page after page of commentary and analysis. I had been expecting to learn about the power of reading to sustain people through difficult times. But this felt more like an academic paper tracing patterns of feelings and behaviours.

I kept thinking surely she would move on to other books or authors. But not a bit of it. Tompkins became so enthused by learning about Theroux that she then progressed to another of his books (The Old Patagonian Express) . And so we were treated to yet another detailed analysis.

At which point (about 25% of the way into the book) I decided enough was enough.

The Midwife by Katja Kettu

the midwifePublished by Amazon Crossing 2016.  My copy was provided by Net Galley in exchange for a fair review.

The synopsis of this book sounded promising. It takes place in the final years of World War II when the Soviet Union and Germany are fighting for control of Finland. This is the backdrop for a romance between a woman nicknamed “Weird-Eye” ,who works as a midwife, and a war photographer who works for the SS.

Unfortunately the author seems to think her readers are deeply interested in the details of Finnish history at this time. Her book begins with a detailed timeline of events the significance of which was lost on me. When the narrative does get underway it becomes even more confusing – the narrative is written in the first person but it switches perspectives between different characters whose identity is not immediately obvious. Too confusing to be a pleasurable experience.  Abandoned after 10%.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

seven killingsPublished by OneWorld Publications in 2015.

This won the Booker Prize in 2015. It relates the story of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley (never referred to by name, only as  “the singer”) and its aftermath. I knew it was written partly in Jamaican patois but once I ‘tuned in” that didn’t present a problem.

The real difficulty was that it has a vast array of characters – the cast list at the beginning shows 75 names. Around a dozen of these jump in to tell their story. One is an American journalist, another is a kid called Bam Bam who saw his father shot in the head. There are several gangsters and a prostitute. Since their appearances are often short, I kept forgetting who they all were. That plus the non linear narrative made the whole book far too confusing.

I gave it a good shot but in the end decided I had far more enjoyable books waiting on the shelves.



What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

38 thoughts on “3 lousy books to confuse and frustrate

  • Pingback: 19 books taking the wheels off my wagon | BookerTalk

  • Like you, I find myself well able to put a book down if it hasn’t gripped me by 80-100 pages. I may well steer clear of the first two books you list here – but I have to say that I did enjoy ‘Seven Killings’ though it wasn’t an easy read. So much so that I am determined to read it again sometime.

    That said, there are so many things to read that I probably won’t go back to it. I promised myself I would re-read ‘Midnights’ Children’ too, not least because I was a lot younger when I read it the first time, and feel it deserves to be read from a more mature perspective. Once again, I probably won’t go back to it, because life is too short. My aunt, who inspired me with so many great reading tips over the years, has dementia and doesn’t really read any more. So that gives me 20 years if I’m lucky, and a ton of books to read!

    One book I had to abandon recently was Amor Towles’ ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’. I really didn’t get on with it. And now my book group has chosen it, so I am going to have to have another go – grrr!

    • I’ve been known to abandon some books after 5 pages but usually I do give them more of a chance though I don’t have a predetermined threshold number. Re-reading? Great in theory but it never seems to happen with me these days, far too many unread books.

  • I love this kind of post – makes us all feel better about finding books too much or not at all to our tastes! Hope there are better ones among the rest of the mini-reviews!

  • Ugh what a shame-these books all sound awful. I know everyone loves Marlon James, but I don’t like too many characters, so I know I’d never get through it.

  • Can’t you just imagine it?

    “Ack, I’ve gone into labor!”
    “No fear, Weird-Eye is coming to get the wee man out!”
    “…….I think I’ll just go give birth by myself in the corner, thanks.”

  • Too bad about reading through the night. I usually enjoy books like that as comfort reads but I think I will be skipping this one.

  • I’m terrible at giving up on books, even though I realise nobody benefits from me getting more and more frustrated as I get further and further bogged down in a novel I’m not enjoying! Thank you for sharing your own mini-reviews as an example to us all 🙂

    • I find it so hard to write mini reviews. I start off with good intentions and then find I’ve written 400 words….

    • I could say I feel virtuous that I read more than that but I don’t – I just feel it was a waste of time

  • Ooops, the last sentence should read ‘abandon books that are NOT appealing to me’.

  • The realisation that there are only so many years left to me in which I can read, spurs me on to read, rather than write long reviews – given the choice of reading or writing I choose reading. So short reviews are fine by me. And I’m a lot quicker to abandon books that are appealing to me than I used to be.

    • Good to know that I am not alone Margaret. I think I used to feel guilty if I didn’t finish a book…Now not so much

  • I’m another one who seems to have far less time for reading and blogging now than I ever did when I was working. Of course, my work did involve reading fiction but even so….. I blame all those Pilates classes myself.

    • I need the Pilates to counter the effects of all of those work years sitting down glued to computer and phone

      • It’s all the years bent over reading and writing where I’m concerned. I have to say though that it has made a tremendous difference.

        • Me too – so much so that I now go twice a week

  • Judy Krueger

    I too constantly struggle to keep up on my reviews. I had already been keeping notes on all the books I read beginning in 1991, way before I started my blog in 2005. I did that because I would get a book from the library only to discover I had already read it! Lately I have been letting myself write quite short reviews and that helps a bit, but it is part of my life now so I keep going. I appreciate all the work bloggers do and value so much this online form of community. I think we should all allow ourselves to approach the practice in whatever way works best for us.

    • Yep, had that problem of starting to read something only to find I’d already read it. It happened mainly with crime fiction, less so with literary fiction though even then I do struggle a few times to remember the plots….

  • I’ve not read the first two books but I read Seven Killings over about 6 months, I seem to remember. I kept putting it down and then getting another burst of excitement about it, enough to have another stab at it, then finding it heavy-going and needing another break.

    • I also kept putting it down and thinking if I came to it with a fresh mind maybe it would work better. But it never did and I realised after 6 months when I hadn’t even looked at it, that it was time to kick it into touch,

      • I think that’s fair enough. We can’t like everything. There are plenty of other books out there, waiting for the right reader for them.

  • I don’t know the books, so I won’t comment on them, but you are so right about what happens to time, when you retire. I don’t know anybody retired, who don’t complain about not having enough time. I wonder how we once found the time to go to work 😯

    • I never subscribed to the view that you should finish a book no matter what. But these days I am even more likely to give up on ones I don’t enjoy. Maybe its the realisation that there are only so many years left to me in which I can read and hence only so many books I can get through. Why waste precious time on those that are not enjoyable….

  • Fair enough—I remember loving A Brief History of Seven Killings, but also that I really had to just give up trying to keep things straight and go with the flow. Mostly it all made sense by the end, but I’m not sure if that method would work so well if I tried it again. (James does seem to like a huge cast. His new book, Black Leopard Red Wolf, is similarly populous…)

    • I did something similar with Midnight’s Children – I admire the achievement in writing the book but can;t say I really enjoyed the experience

  • I also abandoned Brief History recently! I got through about 30% when I decided it was too much of a hard slog – apart from the huge cast, the language required full concentration (I see why it is admired for its style though). I also found the violence hard going.

    • A slog is a good way to describe how I felt on this too Kate


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