Melanie Gay considers when you discard a novel
One of the most difficult decisions for a reader is whether to continue reading book he/she is not enjoying.This rarely troubles a reviewer as to coin a phrase ” you asked me to review the book not read it.” I know of one respected reviewer a historian who has a template on the Nuremberg trial which he can adapt for any review of a book on it.
It is however an important issue. I once attended a book club in which the prescribed reading was Saul Bellow ” The Rise of Augie March.” Bellow is not a readable writer and defeated over half of the circle . The chair was embarrassed but I suggested they might adopt a rule that no one is obliged to read a book but if so everyone has to give a reason for not so doing.
A bit like pregnancy when at some stage very mother contemplates an abortion, there is usually a moment when the reader does not wish to continue: the symptoms are skim reading, looking ahead for the chapter finish, and putting the book down for longer intervals . Then there is simply the novel you cannot bear. One such for was the best seller “Heartbreak Hotel”. Its author Deborah Moggach had a big hit with “Marigold Hotel” and maybe her publisher advised her to stick to superannuated sex for the next. Not only did I find it unfunny but appallingly written. It irritated the hell out of me yet it regularly appears not just in the best seller lists but a talked about comic novel.
At the moment I’m having a problem with William Maxwell’s “So long, See You Tomorrow”. Maxwell was recommended to me by Justin Cartwirght. He has a fine reputation . I seem to have be reading the book for ages but have only reached page 33. Its a rite of passage novel set in a hick town in Illinois from the eyes of a child and I find it dull. I only have another100 pages so I will persevere.
There is a converse to my arguments the pulp novel that is immensely readable but equally forgettable. To be readable is no crime. William Boyd for example is an immensely readable novelist but no lightweight. Michael Frayn is a funny writer but a heavyweight intellectually. There is a whole raft of novels in the Harold Robbins school that you can’t put down but leave little impression thereafter. Generally speaking writers especially non fiction ones do not make much money but research can be labour intensive . So they supplement their meagre incomes by reviewing and I an afraid jealousy creeps on.
My favourite popular writer is Daphne du Maurier. She tells a good story, has a rich imagination and for someone unfairly labeled as a romantic writer very much a dark side, think of ” Rebecca” “, Dont Look Now “and “the Birds” . She led a reclusive life in
Menabillly near Par and had healthy contempt for London literary life. Her success and distance led to an underestimation of her talents
In the end its a matter of subjectivity, taste and persistence. one reviewer put this better:
” This novel should not be discarded lightly . It should be thrown a long way.”