I still find it difficult, even after all my decades of reading, to stop reading a book. However, this year I was a little tougher on myself and I had more DNFs than previously..
- Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien – (75/480 pages) – This was for book group, but I just struggled to get into it at all.
- Village of the Lost Girls by Augustin Martinez – (112/487 pages, comments here) – The main problem with this Spanish abduction thriller was its waffle. I wish it had been edited down to say 350 or so pages (or fewer even). At 487 pages, the waffle continually diluted the urgency.
- Country by Michael Hughes – (140/320 pages, comments here) – There was no doubting Hughes ambition to tell the story of the Iliad through the squabbles of an IRA cell holed up as the cease-fire is being negotiated. Country is well-written and I wanted to read it, but it was so concentrated, so violent, so nasty to the women. I couldn’t read on – a rarity for me.
- Falling Awake by Alice Oswald – (42/81 pages, comments here) – I may have found an enthusiasm for poetry this year, but I’m not yet ready for Oswald’s fractured verses with above my head classical allusion, nor forty pages of Orpheus’s head floating down the river.
- The Lola Quartet by Emily St John Mandel – (116/274 pages, comments here) – I’m hoping this was a case of wrong time, wrong book. I’d just finished reading a book with very similar themes and setting, so it felt repetitive.
- Nia by Robert Minhinnick – (102/180 pages) – A young woman returns with her daughter to where she was attacked as a teenager. She reunites up with her friends who’d been off travelling, and are mostly now idle. Together they help Nia to make sense of her world – and there’s a descent into a cave. I didn’t get that far, because I couldn’t engage with the characters and it was just too slowburn for a short novel.
That’s the DNFs, I didn’t keep a record of the handful I tried to start but didn’t get beyond the first few pages.
The Most Disappointing Book of the Year
Across the Void by SK Vaughn
I so wanted to like this SF chunkster after loving The Martian (book and film), but it was just rubbish, formulaic, and the main character was poorly written. I wrote a little, but only a little, bit more about it here.
The Most Preposterous Thriller
The Carrier by Mattias Berg, translated George Goulding
This Swedish thriller introduced a few thriller trope – ‘Nuclear Noir’. It tells the story of when the guy who accompanies the President with the briefcase with the codes goes rogue. This is Swedish journalist Mattias Berg’s first novel – and it shows. Not in the mega-complicated conspiracy plot, which I am still perplexed by, nor the near superhuman characters involved (the fittest characters I’ve ever met in a thriller), but in the sheer amount of detail that he shoehorns into the book. At 479 pages in hardback, I felt it could have been whittled down to 350 or fewer through losing the excessive detail and some of the pondering. Full of info dumps about the real life ‘Mother of the Atomic Bomb’ – Austro-Swedish nuclear physicist Lise Meitner, and all the tunnels under Stockholm, it rather underwhelmed in its overcomplicated way.
Read my full review here.
When the Format Goes Wrong
Symphony in C: Carbon and the Evolution of (Almost) Everything by Robert M. Hazen
Hazen is Executive Director of the Deep Carbon Observatory, a global research programme based in Washington DC which he founded, looking at the role of carbon on Earth. He is also a serious musician, having been a professional trumpeter alongside his scientific career. Hence the combination of his day job with his hobby in the title and structure of this book about carbon. He uses symphonic form to tell the story of carbon in four movements, titled after the four traditional elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water, with all the musical sub-sections you can think of therein!
And there lies part of the problem with this book – shoehorning all the science into musical form chapters, didn’t really work. Additionally, for me, there was just not enough chemistry – and far too much about rocks.
Read my full review here.
There were a few more less than totally thrilling thrillers and crime novels, and Adam Kay’s Christmas diary which was too self-referencing, but on the whole, my disappointments this year were few.
15 thoughts on “Year End Review 2: The Disappointments”
I also found Do Not Say We Have Nothing totally unengaging – I was much more attracted by the framing story than the main narrative!
Yes, me too. The moment it got into the main story was when I lost interest!
I tend to choose my reads carefully and rarely find anything an absolute wash-out, confirmed by my average Goodreads star rating of 4.2. I think Jen Campbell’s collection The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night may have fallen into this category by the unevenness of the selection, but even that merited three stars. Clearly I have to try harder next year! 🙂
The majority of books I read earn 4 or more stars – which is 8/10 in my scores, however, even my lowest scored book this year is 5/10, whereas if I did scores out of 5, I’d have given it 2 I expect. Even those ok/meh thrillers tend to get 6.5, which is my really average (in terms of quality rather than a mathematical one).
I should really review my scoring system, but it’s so ingrained in me! 🙂
The Thien was definitely a struggle for me, though ultimately I admired it and would have been happy for it to win that year’s Booker.
This is a totally respectable list of DNFs. I wish I could cut mine down to 6 in a year! I also include in my list the ones I’ve given up on within the first chapter / 10 pages, though I tend to label them “decided against.”
It’s twice as many DNFs this year, which is progress of a sort! I like your term ‘decided against’ – but I didn’t keep a record of those – there were a handful I think. However you read so many books at a time, it’s not surprising you have more.
I try to avoid books I think I won’t like or finish, but Berlin Alexanderplatz nearly destroyed me!
Rather you than me Karen! 😀
Oh dear! I do love this kind of post, though. I don’t think I’ve read anything THAT disappointing this year, as I do tend to swerve away from books I don’t enjoy at at most the first few pages. And I avoid books there is hype about. Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s “The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die” was probably my most disappointing as it just seemed unfinished and tailed off weirdly!
I had high hopes for the SF book until about a third of the way through, but I kept with it hoping for something interesting, because there were all these, ultimately unfulfilled, potential good plot diversions – didn’t happen!
Intrigued as to why you find not finishing a book a problem. Do you not pass across a painting that holds no interested rapidly rather than looking at it for several minutes? Do you not turn to another piece of music if (for example) Mahler turns out not to be your sort of thing?
I can rely on you to make me think. 😀 If I get a reasonable way into a book, I like to give it a fair go, and always hope for better – as with music – but if it still hasn’t engaged me, that’s when I give up. However if it holds no interest for me within the first few pages, like a single painting, I’ll pass and not record that – adds a handful of ‘Didn’t really get starteds’. Hope you appreciate my difference between the two. In general though, I enjoy the majority of what I read – so feel chuffed that I pick well. By the way, “Wouldn’t you just *die* without Mahler?” (Educating Rita).
Great answer! A live performance of one of Mahler’s symphonies is the only thing I have ever walked out of. I don’t deny his talent nor importance and I have very broad tastes in music of all genres but it really wasn’t for me.
I love that. I have a soft spot for Mahler 5 as I played in a Salomon Orchestra concert at St John Smith Square with a young Simon Rattle as our conductor in 1979! The Salomon was an invitation non-professional orchestra that got (still does get) together twice yearly to perform. The Director of Croydon Schools Music Centre was in it, and as recent leader I was invited to sit at the back of the 2nd violins. It was daunting to be with much better players, but inspirational.
Very impressed! 🙂