Around the World in 80 Books: Abandoned Reads

Whilst I have made some fantastic choices so far for my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge, there have been several which just haven’t worked for me, and which I have consequently given up on.  I felt that it would be a good idea to group together these choices and, as always, would love your thoughts about any of these books if you have read them.

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart (Madeira) 9781444715033
I have been thoroughly enjoying reading through Mary Stewart’s work, and have only been a little disappointed by one or two novels from her oeuvre thus far. Never did I think that I’d actually give up on one of her novels; that is, until I started Touch Not the Cat. I love Stewart’s writing – her descriptions in particular, but I just did not feel myself becoming immersed in this particular book.

It is not only the silly, overblown telepathic angle which I disliked here; there was no hint of the strong characterisation which I have come to expect from Stewart’s books, and barely anything happened in the first fifth of the novel which I made myself plod through. The pace, something which Stewart is normally so good at getting spot on, was off, and even the isolated country house setting – something which immediately endears me to a book – did very little to pull it out of its funk.

9781472152848Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose (South Africa)
Fiona Melrose’s Johannesburg has been inspired by, and written as a response of sorts, to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, a novel which I absolutely love, and which I have read several times. I found Melrose’s comparisons and echoes to be too obvious, and also found that there were far too many characters to try and keep track of. The writing was abrupt as it shifted from one character to another in the space of just one or two pages, and nothing quite melded together. A lot of people have mentioned in their reviews that they adored Midwinter but were quite disappointed by Johannesburg, so I am not going to let it put me off reading Melrose’s debut.


Rotten Row by Petina Gappah (Zimbabwe) 9780571324194
I tend to adore short story collections, and whilst I admired the use of a single road in Harare as the geographical setting for each inclusion in Rotten Row, this book simply did not work for me. I read the first three stories, all of which seemed quite exaggerated at times in terms of the cultural stereotypes which they portrayed. I did not connect with any of these tales, or feel anything for their characters, and so I gave up on it; quite disappointing, as Rotten Row sounded like a promising and enlightening read on the face of it.


A Disappointing Novel: ‘The Shadow Land’ by Elizabeth Kostova

‘Soon after arriving in Bulgaria a young American helps an elderly couple into a taxi – and realises too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers an urn filled with human ashes. As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she gradually uncovers the secrets of a talented musician shattered by oppression – and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.’

9781911231103I have now resigned myself to the fact that Kostova will probably never again reach the heady heights of The Historian, a book which I have read twice and loved even more the second time around. The Swan Thieves, her second novel, was markedly disappointing, but I did struggle through to the end, something which I could not bear to do with her third effort, The Shadow Land.

The novel is set in Sofia, Bulgaria, a city which I recently visited and absolutely loved. The city itself is not well evoked within The Shadow Land, and neither is Bulgarian culture. Kostova flits back and forth in time to her protagonist Alexandra Boyd’s childhood in the US, using her first person perspective in which to do so, and rendering the present day story in a third person narrative voice. Alexandra’s voice is not at all convincing, and I found Kostova’s writing rather dull in places; even her descriptions are rather ordinary.

The Shadow Land sounded like a promising book, but it failed to pull me in, and it got to the point where I simply could not stand to read more about the very annoying Alexandra. I think it is high time to give up on reading Kostova’s future work.


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.


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?