Thursday, February 02, 2006

Three Misses

I wasn't sure how I was going to handle writing about books that were really bad. Sometimes I abandon a book fairly quickly, and in that case, while I know the book isn't for me, I don't know enough about it to critique it in a fair way, or in a way that might be useful to someone who is reading this. It's reasonable to say, after reading one page "I don't want to read this book." It's not reasonable to say "This book is bad." Even I am not so confident that I can claim to be able to spot a bad book having only read one page.

But sometimes I stick with a book long enough to get a sense for why it isn't working for me, and in that case I feel justified in at least trying to characterize what is wrong with it. This week I have devoted time to three such books, and got pretty discouraged. Here is what I read, and why I didn't like it:

Natives and Exotics by Jane Alison. Purports to be about a young girl's life in Ecuador as the daughter of a diplomat in the 1970's. It is about this at first, but then it leaves this character, and takes up with the story of her grandmother's life on a farm in Australia in the 1920's. Then it abandons that story and picks up with another ancestor character in the 1820's. None of these threads really gets resolved, so it's not like short stories about these characters. It feels very disjointed; there is no continuity. In addition, the language is a bit too flowery for me, with lots of long poetic descriptions of volcanoes and sunshine, which I find dull and have to skim.

Skinner's Drift by Lisa Fugard. This is very new, and is about a young woman returning to South Africa to care for her dying father. This young woman is very whiny and annoying. The father is an alcoholic. No one in this book is at all nice, and there is an aunt who keeps lapsing into Afrikaans, with no English translation provided. Am I supposed to understand those parts? I didn't.

Small Island by Andrea Levy. A Whitbread award winner, which usually means that I will like it, but not in this case. It's about a Jamaican couple who moves to London, and big sections of it are written in Jamaican dialect. I don't mind occasional characters who speak in dialect, but I don't want a narrator who uses dialect to speak directly to the reader, as this book does. It's very distracting.

All these books lack something that I require: straightforward narrative. I like books that go in chronological order, that follow the same characters throughout, and that don't rely on gimmicks (characters speaking other languages, or narration in dialect).


Anonymous said...

Oh Becky - you are so scaring me. I just bought Small Island! I haven't read a page of it. Jeannie B.

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