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Reading the World 2017: ‘The Ice Lands’ by Steinar Bragi **

The Ice Lands is the second novel by Icelandic author Steinar Bragi, a critically acclaimed poet and author in his native land.  Translated by Lorenza Garcia, the novel takes as its focus two couples, all in their thirties, who have been affected by Iceland’s financial crisis. We meet reckless Egill, recovering alcoholic Hrafn, and their partners, Anna and Vigdis.  The quartet decide to embark upon a camping trip; the weather and the poor visibility which it brings mean that the Jeep in which they are travelling crashes into a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.  When they meet the couple who live inside said farmhouse, the premise heightens somewhat: ‘… the isolated dwelling is inhabited by a mysterious elderly couple who inexplicably barricade themselves inside every night.  As past tensions within the group rise to the surface, the merciless weather blocks every attempt at escape, forcing them to ask difficult questions: who has been butchering animals near the house?  What happened to the abandoned village nearby where bones lie strewn across the ground?  And most importantly, will they return home?’  A Swedish publication, Corren, deemed the novel ‘Iceland’s Twin Peaks’.

9781447298816The novel’s overall review score is quite poor, I felt, standing at 2.84 out of 5 on Goodreads.  This made me a little sceptical, I must say, but I love Icelandic literature, and was determined to give it a fair chance.  I felt a definite comradeship with all of the reviewers who have marked this a two- or one-star read quite early on, however; the dialogue is rather dull, and whilst the story is what really drives the whole onwards, it has not been overly well executed.

Bragi’s opening paragraph captures Iceland’s darkness effectively, yet rather simply: ‘Over the highlands all was still.  The shadows on the horizon darkened, growing sharper against the sky, before dissolving into the night’.  Sadly, the writing never really regains this quiet power, and an inconsistency is visible throughout.  The prose is very much of the telling rather than the showing variety, which gives the whole an element of dullness, and which renders the reader (or rendered me, at least) rather impatient for something to happen.  Bragi is very matter-of-fact, and a lot of the details discussed or included feel superfluous.  It’s just quite a boring book, and excerpts of prose such as the following would encourage me to avoid the work in question: ‘Through the open door of the barn they glimpsed bales of hay wrapped in green and white plastic.  In the yard in front of the barn stood a sand-blown Willys jeep.  The old woman was crouching beside one of the wheels in a pair of grubby overalls, poking a tool under the body of the vehicle.  Clearly she was in charge of more than the housework’.

The Ice Lands had a lot of potential, due not only to its setting, but to the intrigue of its plot.  Not a great deal else occurs that is not described in the book’s blurb, and it caused this particular reader to give up around a third of the way through.  Had an author such as Halldor Laxness used a similar plot in his fiction, I imagine that it would be incredibly compelling, and quite difficult to put down.

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More Abandoned Books

Every so often, I create a post detailing those books which I have abandoned for whatever reason.  A lot of the following are tomes which I have checked out of the library and have felt no obligation to finish; perhaps if I had purchased them myself, I would have had more staying power, and would have ensured that I read at least half – who knows?  It is a widely-documented bookish fact, though, that life is too short to waste on books you’re not enjoying.  With that said, here are the books which I have put down in the last couple of months.

Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts
Being a British Library Crime Classic publication, I thought I would very much enjoy this; it seemed not.  The storyline was peculiar, and felt very far-fetched.

Marrying Off Mother and Other Stories by Gerald Durrell 9781447214540
I very much enjoyed My Family and Other Animals when I read it some years ago, and found the recent ITV production of ‘The Durrells’ both charming and funny.  That said, I decided to check this volume of short stories out, expecting to very much enjoy it.  Sadly not.  I found that a lot of the scenes and characters had been recycled from Durrell’s memoir, and put it down before I got too frustrated.

Death on the Riviera by John Bude
Another British Library Crime Classic which did not wet my whistle.  I had hoped that a crime novel centered around a beautiful place would be just the thing for springtime reading, but I just couldn’t get on with Bude’s slow-moving style.

9781408870778Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff
It is perhaps not cool to admit that I was a big fan of Rosoff’s ‘young adult’ novels in my teenage years, but I was.  It is perhaps even less cool to say that How I Live Now is still one of your favourite books…  But it is.  I was, understandably, quite looking forward to reading Rosoff’s first adult novel, but found it badly stylised, and, ultimately, a little boring.

Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson
I abandoned a Persephone, ladies and gentleman, and now have to live with myself over doing so.  I really enjoyed Ferguson’s The Brontes Went to Woolworths, but this was rather clunky, and I just couldn’t immerse myself into it without feeling as though I was back in a rather dry undergraduate history lesson.

The Cost of Lunch, Etc. by Marge Piercy
I hadn’t heard of Piercy before I checked this out, and then found out how prolific she was.  None of the opening pages grabbed me, so I gave up.

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson 9781844087723
I shall be honest and say that I haven’t got on all that well with Robinson’s fiction over the years, and that the only book of hers which I have enjoyed is Housekeeping.  I felt that a volume of essays would be more up my street.  Sadly not.  Everything led back down the road to religion, and whilst I respect Robinson’s belief, it’s not something which I feel should be forcibly shoehorned into every possible essay, regardless of the central theme.

 

Have you read any of these books?  Would you recommend that I try to read any of them again?

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20 Books of Summer: An Abandoned Book!

I was so looking forward to reading everything on my 20 Books of Summer list – yes, even the more daunting titles which I included.  One which sounded fascinating – Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love – disappointed me so much, however, that I was unable to complete it.

I hadn’t read any of Forna’s work before, but was really looking forward to doing so.  I adore contemporary literature, particularly when it introduces me to time periods and countries which I have not personally experienced. Sierra Leone in the late 1960s and 1990s, the setting which has been utilised here, is one such example.

It surprises me that I could so dislike a book which has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize (now the Baileys Women’s Prize), and which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book.  It has been incredibly well reviewed too, by authors whom I very much admire (Kiran Desai, I’m looking at you).  I sadly found the whole so disengaging, and the third and first person perspectives which have been used alternately throughout are flat and rather lacklustre.  The Memory of Love, for me, was nowhere near as good as I was expecting, and as I did not find Forna’s writing very strong at all, I doubt that I will pick up another of her books in future.

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More Abandoned Books

It feels a little strange to be scheduling a list of reading failures on my birthday, but of late, I have had to abandon three more books which were originally on my Classics Club list.  The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (entry #83) was not at all what I was expecting it to be, and wasn’t quite to my taste.  It felt a little too involved with faith and politics rather than its characters.  It was rather flat and did not pique or hold my interest, so I decided to give up on it.  I was most excited by entry #82, Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, but the translation which I started to read on my Kindle was awful.  It is definitely a book which I will get to in the future, but hopefully not in such a jolting edition.  I had much the same issue with volume two of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (entry #17); it is a book which I definitely want to complete, but I was not entirely happy with the downloaded translation, and probably do not have enough time to get to it this year.

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Abandoned Books

Sadly, I have had to abandon several books of late, three of which I originally chose as part of my Classics Club list.  I have written a short series of thoughts about each below, and will certainly give them another go in future if anyone thinks such an act is warranted.

Celia’s House by D.E. Stevenson – I was so looking forward to this, but the plot is stretched incredibly thin.  The writing is beautiful in places, but I spent too much time willing something to happen and simply could not get into it.

Go Down MosesAbsalom, Absalom!Light in AugustFlags in the Dust and The Reivers by William Faulkner – I have issues with a lot of Faulkner’s work, despite very much enjoying As I Lay Dying.  I find his sentence construction jarring and his almost-Joycean books difficult to enjoy.

Anne of Green Gables: Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery – Despite very much enjoying the first book in the Anne of Green Gables series, I just could not bring myself to finish the second.  I did not find it engaging, and the once adorable Anne sadly felt like an entirely different character.

Be Safe, I Love You by Cara Hoffman – I set my hopes too high with Viragos, it seems.  The prologue was well-sculpted, but as soon as it reached its first chapter, I became rather bored with it.  The narrative is dull and the characters felt flat.

The Beetle: A Mystery by Richard Marsh – Part of my Classics Club list, I sadly could not finish this.  Its premise is intriguing, and the first person narrative perspective works well, but what I read felt largely like a rehash of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which I must admit I am not overly fond of. 

The Ambassadors by Henry James – I very much enjoy James’ shorter books, but the beginning of this weighty tome did not engage me enough to warrant my carrying on with it.

Ann Veronica by H.G. Wells – Another on my Classics Club list.  I was fascinated to see the differences between Wells’ science-fiction and this vastly different novel, but I simply could not engage with the characters, nor care about them enough to view their outcomes with much interest.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri – I am sure that this is a perfectly lovely book once one has waded through its treacly beginning, but on my second attempt, I just couldn’t finish it.  I remember trying to read it as a child and becoming rather despondent with it, and it seems that nothing has changed.  The third failure on my Classics Club list.

Which books have you abandoned recently?  When do you tend to give up on a book if you do not enjoy it?

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More Abandoned Books

Sadly, I have abandoned rather a few books of late, for various reasons.  Two of them at least were novels which I had read in an omnibus edition, so I do not feel too bad for not reading them again.  My list of recently abandoned books, and the reasons as to why, is as follows:

The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark – too focused upon religion for my liking; repetitive; not as absorbing as Spark’s other novels; the plot is slow; too long and overdone.
Tenterhooks and Love at Second Sight by Ada Leverson – collected as part of The Little Ottleys, which I have already read.
The Piazza Talesby Herman Melville – I started to read this only so that I could see what Melville’s writing was like; the grammatical errors, whether deliberate or not, were irritating; nothing jumped out and grabbed me.
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare – I purchased this only because it was recommended to me by April and seems to be very popular on BookTube, but it isn’t my thing at all; I do not like books about vampires or werewolves at all, and this features both; there is a gushing quote by Stephenie Meyer on the back cover which put me off; the first two chapters which I read were very slow; nothing interested me.
Ladders to Fire by Anais Nin – I adore Nin’s work, but this is part of the same series as The Four Chambered Heart, my least favourite of her books to date; her prose is stunning but the characters felt oddly flat; some of the erotica felt a little too overdone; the library book which I borrowed smells horribly of smoke, so I did not want to continue to read it.

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Abandoned: ‘Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London’s Jazz Age’ by D. J. Taylor **

I ended up just skimming through this book, which combines very little biographical info and uneven cultural details. I’ve had this on my shelf for so long, waiting for a time when I needed a good escape book. The book gives a large emphasis on Elizabeth Ponsonby, but very little else on figures who are much more widely known.

There are some interesting pictures contained, yet none that I haven’t seen in other books of the era. I wanted more on the literary influences and less on the social elite, although that is rather incomplete. I would suggest skipping this book, since there are some great individual bios and correspondence compilations that contain much more detail.

Rating: 2 stars