Showing posts with label abandoned. Show all posts
Showing posts with label abandoned. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

DNF | "House Arrest"

Noa Yedlin's novel בעלת הבית (House Arrest) won Israel's top literary prize in 2013. It's a novel that had been largely praised and admired, plus it seemed like Yedlin was an up-and-coming star I ought to actually read (I've had her earlier novel, Shelf Life unread for... years). It turned out that the same thing that kept me from ever actually getting around to reading Shelf Life (an odd pretentiousness that has kept me away, again, for literally 7ish years) kept me from getting into House Arrest.

The truth is, I abandoned House Arrest around a third of the way through not even because I thought I couldn't finish it. The style is clear enough that I probably could have managed to finish, plus there's a certain swiftness to the writing that makes it generally pretty "readable" (ah, that word). But here's the thing: I got stuck somewhere around a third, my attention drifting instead to other books. And when I came back to finish reading the book for my "partially read" challenge in the Great Book Buying Ban, I realized I didn't want to.

I didn't want to spend any more time with the insufferable characters that populate House Arrest, I didn't want to have to listen to the obnoxious main character (Asa), a man so pretentious I almost wished he really existed in real life just so I could smack him. I didn't want to spend any more time in a book that feels like it starts 70 pages too late, taking its time to "establish" the characters before getting to the drama that the back cover has already revealed.

One of the things I've been trying to work on in recent years is abandoning books more easily. And it's true, sometimes my motivations aren't entirely fair. Like here. House Arrest probably gets better not long after the point I abandoned it. I'm sure the internal character conflicts grow more interesting. Maybe even the characters themselves become less annoying (though I doubt it). I kept feeling like there was something I was missing; here is a novel that presents one of the more privileged portions of Israeli society, yet continuously casts them as hero-victims. There seemed to be such a huge dissonance between the world Yedlin expects me to recognize and the real world. This, I should note, is actually quite common in "well-received" Israeli literature, particularly of the sort that wins the Sapir prize (indeed, I rarely like the books they select, and even those I did like fit this description).

And so... I abandoned House Arrest. Maybe someday in the (far off) future I'll try to read it again. For now, I have removed the bookmark, placed the book on a high, far-off shelf, and dusted my hands.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Abandoned and archived | Malentendu à Moscou by Simone de Beauvoir

According to my Hebrew translation of Simone de Beauvoir's Malentendu à Moscou (translated into Hebrew by Nir Ratzkovsky), this very short novella was "inexplicably archived by the author" and only brought to light in 2013. The edition tries to make a strong case for while this novella is worthy of resurrection or attention. I imagine that from an academic perspective, it's quite interesting. But from a literary perspective?

I abandoned the book despite being over halfway through its very slim frame.

At this point it becomes necessary to ask why. Why abandon such a short book in the first place? Especially when I was clearly so far into it? The answer is quite simply: I was over halfway through, and all there was to the story was a tension that suggested that I didn't want to keep reading.

The novella tells of an aging couple that goes to visit the husband's daughter from a previous relationship in Moscow. The alternating segments tell of each spouse's assessment of their life and situation in Moscow. They ruminate about growing older. They consider their relationship (separately). They think about their aching bodies and the alcohol they're drinking for dinner. It gets absurdly repetitive, coupled with a stunning lack of communication between the couple. This lends a growing tension that something is going to happen, as does the novella's title. It's just that at a certain point, I no longer cared. Let something happen! I won't stick around to read it.

Part of this is in the writing. As I said, there's a deep repetitiveness to their vacation. Daily walks, complaints, and contemplations that loop and loop with hardly any adjustments. And while I'm often a fan of repetitiveness as a literary tool, here it just wasn't supplemented with anything to give it meaning. It felt more like a writing exercise than a genuine unfolding story, and I could understand why de Beauvoir archived it rather than publish it. A story that started with a clear idea, but then got lost in endless meandering.

Hence: I have abandoned and archived it myself. Perhaps next time I should stick to the works de Beauvoir wanted me to read...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Abandoning The Rehearsal

Abandoning a book is never easy. Abandoning a book a mere fifty pages from its end? Pretty much unprecedented for me. I was looking forward to reading Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal quite a bit - I consider Catton's sophomore effort The Luminaries as one of the best books I've read this year - but from the first page, I felt like the book wasn't for me.

You know how I often say that I don't like present tense writing? There's actually a reason for that. Present tense writing can be a brilliant literary tool when properly applied (for a tense narrative, a sense of immediacy, etc.), but it's usually just used lazily as another format. When used lazily, it often gets muddled with past-tense comments. And there is almost nothing I hate in literature so much as switches between past and present tense in a narrative.

So not only is most of The Rehearsal written in present tense that often slips back into past tense... it also explicitly switches to past tense in different areas.

Deliberate literary technique applied by Catton? Obviously. Mark of a clever, thoughtful writing? Probably. Extremely annoying? Definitely.

On top of hating the writing style, I also realized fairly quickly that I hated the clever structure. Catton's writing is clearly experimental here, similar to her structural games in The Luminaries. But in her second book, Catton does a good job of using her base structure fairly subtly - you don't have to become immersed in it to appreciate the story. In The Rehearsal, the back-and-forth style, the vagueness, and the saxophone-teacher frame story are all very bluntly applied. There was no way to escape from Catton's experimentation, nowhere to hide.

Oh, and all the characters were distinctly unsympathetic. Kind of purposely, I guess. But I wanted to smack each and every one of them. And by the time I was fifty pages from the end, I realized that I didn't care one whit what happened to these people, or to their droll lives. The book went back to the library incomplete, and I am frankly happy to be rid of it.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Abandoning Akata Witch

I'm just about a quarter of the way through Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor and to be perfectly frank, there is no point in continuing. I read Okorafor's Who Fears Death years ago, and while I found the novel to be an interesting break from the vast majority of modern fantasy, I had a really hard time with the technical side of things. The writing was clunky, the plotting bothered me, the characters never quite clicked... all in all, I appreciated the book much more than I actually liked it.

And with Akata Witch... I just can't.

Okay, I can see glimmers of intrigue in Akata Witch's premise. Not only its Nigerian locale, but also how quickly it hammers out messages about belonging, appearance, culture, and race... way too strongly. I'm dropping the book just as the potential for fantasy is about to hit, but something about the entire concept feels very weak to me. And then there's the writing, which reminds me a bit of how I used to write in middle school - lots of exclamations, clumsy introductions to characters, very not-subtle infodumps and a general lack of flow. This is the same type of writing that frustrated me in Who Fears Death, except here - perhaps because of its younger intended audience - it feels even clunkier.

I could force myself to finish the book - it's not too long and is far from too complex. But I'm not enjoying it. I like books to have a bit more subtlety than Okorafor is providing me with, and I find the writing to be both a distraction and an annoyance. I don't feel like in a quarter of the book Okorafor has convinced me to care about any of the introduced characters, nor feel a particular attachment to the their world. I'm sure Akata Witch has its relevance, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good book. So... abandoned.