Year End Review #2: The Disappointments

There are always some books that just don’t live up to expectations.  Here are a few that didn’t gel with me for various reasons – plus my nominations for silliest thriller of the year.

The DNFs

I had a good year again with just 2 DNFs – books that I got a way into before abandoning.

The first was Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed. I was looking forward to this book, a reprint of a 1972 novel from Penguin Modern Classics, even though I knew nothing about the author; the cover picture of Josephine Baker drew me in. Sadly, I felt totally out of my depth reading the book, finding it confusing and disjointed with its text that’s broken up with quotes, poems, pictures, drawings, diagrams and more – trippy stuff. The idea of a dance  plague named for Topsy who ‘Jes Grew’ is undoubtedly a brilliant one for a satire on the times of the novel, I just wish I knew more about its background in 1920s Harlem so I could appreciate the book. This is definitely a book for those who like really challenging reads, it was rather too much so for me.

The second was Beautiful Dreamer by John Bramley – a hagiography of Marc Bolan. I was a big fan of Bolan between Davids C (sob!) and B (still sobbing!), so when I saw this in The Works cheap, I shelled out a few quid for it. I should have noted on the jacket’s flyleaf that the book was, “penned by an original fan – one who followed Bolan on tour, who bought every piece of vinyl he released and who was fortunate enough to have made Marc’s acquaintance during the peak of his career.”  The intro continues to say that the author decided only to write positively about his hero, not to be critical in his book…

Enough!  The photos were good though.


The Flat Follow-on…

I read Colonel Sun by Robert Markham for the 1968 Club (reviewed here). Markham was a pseudonym for Kingsley Amis, and the book was the first official James Bond novel to be published after Fleming’s death. With Amis behind it, I was expecting something good, but somehow he missed capturing the fun of Fleming’s Bond.  Amis’s Bond novel is around the same length as most of Fleming’s, but it felt longer.  Amis includes a lot more political discussion, bringing the issues of détente and the Cold War into the frame, setting it firmly in that time. This is all very well, but added to the overall dour feel. It came as a relief to get to the end of the novel with a very weary Bond still alive, rather than the triumph of having vanquished the baddies despite the ending not being particularly downbeat like say Casino Royale (which has one of the best last lines ever).  Colonel Sun just felt a little stodgy, which I didn’t expect from Amis.


The Expensive Miss by a Much-loved Author

The Forensic Records Society by Magnus Mills (reviewed here) was the first book by one of my favourite authors that I haven’t loved.  A book about men and their hobbies, record listening (not collecting, note) in particular. It was presented in an over-nerdy style – and upon reflection, if it had been a little more like The Detectorists (one of the best-ever TV programmes), I would have loved it. The book itself was a lovely thing – presented as a seven inch single – but at £18.99 for under 200 pages, you didn’t get the hole punched through the covers.

I did actually enjoy this book, I just  feel the need to be grumpy about it still!


The other disappointments

  • Without a doubt, the most disappointing book I read this year was Lagom  (see here) – about the Swedish rival philosophy to the Danish hygge.  Suddenly, the shelves are full of Lagom books – I obviously picked a really boring one.
  • The silliest thriller award goes to Outbreak by Robin Cook from 1987, which we read for book group on our ‘medical’ themed month.  Outbreak is a novel of pure airport cheese of the most enjoyable, yet cliched type – scary medical ebola hokum that did keep most of us turning the pages, and it generated quite a lot of discussion. Even book groups can relax, read and enjoy something less literary sometimes!
  • Another literary novel that disappointed me, despite some arresting one-liners was Wall Creeper by Nell Zink, reviewed here. The couple at the heart of this book were so unbearable, they bypassed her writing for me.


The WTF Ending Award! 

I’ve saved this until last, and it goes to Behind her eyes by Sarah Pinborough, reviewed here. The blurb on my review copy of this book challenges the reader:

‘Don’t trust this book
Don’t trust this story
Don’t trust yourself
Whatever you do, DON’T give away that ending’

This otherwise enjoyable psychothriller about an affair went a step too far and became silly, requiring a massive suspension of belief. This is a shame – for I couldn’t put the book down. I started reading it one evening and finished it the next morning and then went ‘What just happened?!’   I was robbed of any chance of guessing the ending.

Many have read and loved this book though. I passed my copy to a friend who had the same reaction as me…

I do want to read more by Pinborough though.


What have been your reading disappointments this year?



14 thoughts on “Year End Review #2: The Disappointments

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    I’ve read one Ishmael Reed novel, Japanese by Spring. I enjoyed it well enough but wouldn’t go out looking for another of his books.

    Wallcreeper was definitely a strange one; I won’t be reading more from Zink.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I may well try Zink again, but the Ishmael Reed was so not my kind of book, despite my love of experimental formats.

  2. BookerTalk says:

    I didnt have any DNFs this year though came very close with Miss Silver’s Past by Josef Škvorecký. My disappointing read was Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi which I’d heard so many good things about that I had high expectations. It was good in parts but I don’t understand why it won so many awards

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I know what you mean about expectations – that was my case with the Magnus Mills this year. I think I would still like to read Homegoing at some point.

  3. Bellezza says:

    I love your “WTF Ending?” category! Can I add Gone Girl from years past to that?!

    I still feel guilty about abandoning books, but there are some that are just not worth working through.

    Happy New Year!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I know what you mean about Gone Girl (although I loved that one), unlike the Girl on the Train which I hated. Behind Her Eyes’s ending is in a whole other league though…

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      The design of this book was nearly perfect (I do wish they’d punched the centre hole in the cover though to completely follow through!) But for me it was a case of not meeting my over-high expectations for a favourite author.

  4. drlauratisdall says:

    I similarly thought Behind Her Eyes really went off the rails (although I wasn’t enjoying it much even before it did!) Sarah Pinborough’s YA-ish Thirteen Minutes is much better.

    My biggest disappointment was probably Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13, not because it was the worst book I read this year by any means, but because I had such high expectations after reading all his previous novels, and it didn’t work for me.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Schlocky thrillers are my comfort read – and perversely, I have a masochistic need to find at least one to have a moan at each year (Girl on the Train last yr).

      Re Jon McGregor – I read his first novel when it first came out, and didn’t get on with it – I’m a more patient reader these days and really ought to try him again, but I did find the hype around Reservoir 13 too intimidating! Laters, as they say.

      • drlauratisdall says:

        If you didn’t like If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things I can’t imagine that you’ll get on with Reservoir 13, it’s like If Nobody Speaks amped up to the max!

        I also enjoy a good thriller, and agree that Girl On The Train was not one.

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