Today I bring together three reviews of books which I expected to enjoy, but which I found disappointing.
The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham **
I have read and enjoyed several of John Wyndham’s books to date, despite the fact that his plots and science-fiction focus are not part of my usual reading fare. I found the storyline of The Kraken Wakes intriguing, and was expecting that I would be pulled into the story quite quickly.
However, this novel feels like a real anomaly in Wyndham’s oeuvre. It took too long to get going, and I did not connect at all to the story. The narrative voice was relatively dull, although it is perhaps fitting that it mimics the style of an article of sorts throughout, given protagonist Mike’s profession as a journalist. The plot is meandering, and the writing stodgy.
Had The Kraken Wakes been the first book of Wyndham’s which I had picked up, I doubt that I would have sought out any more of his work. I got halfway through the novel, before acknowledging that any interest that I had in it had completely disappeared. I expected The Kraken Wakes to be engaging and thought-provoking, particularly with regard to the current climate crisis which the world is facing, but I feel as though a real opportunity has been missed here.
Snap by Belinda Bauer ***
I purchased Belinda Bauer’s Snap on a whim whilst browsing in a local Oxfam store. It has received a lot of hype – and quite a bit of criticism, too – for being long listed for the Man Booker Prize last year.
Snap was not quite what I was expecting, if I’m honest. I found it an easy, quick read, and it did not always feel as though there was enough substance in some of its chapters. The writing was rather matter-of-fact – perhaps too much for my personal taste – although it does fit with the general style of thrillers.
The different threads of the story caught my interest enough that I read to the end, but I did not feel as though the mystery element was strong enough. I’m unsure whether the novel disappointed me, as I came to it with a few reservations, but that’s not to say that I wouldn’t pick up another of Bauer’s books at some point in future.
Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin **
I really enjoyed Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin’s novella Fever Dream, her first book to be translated to English from its original Spanish. I was therefore keen to get my hands on her short story collection, Mouthful of Birds, a copy of which I found in the library. These tales have been translated by Megan McDowell.
Publishers Weekly calls Mouthful of Birds ‘canny, provocative and profoundly unsettling’, and the Library Journal deems it ‘surreal, disturbing and decidedly original’. I felt as though I knew, therefore, what the collection would hold.
The twenty stories here are incredibly strange, on the whole. The first story, ‘Headlights’, is about new brides abandoned by their husbands by the roadside; the narrator of ‘The Test’ is tasked with killing a dog (I was unable to read this gory story in full); in ‘Olingiris’, six girls have to pull out every single hair on a woman’s body, only using tweezers. The premises are odd, and a lot of the imagery caused me to feel queasy, rather than in awe of the author’s imagination.
There is little emotion to be found within these stories, and I felt rather detached from them. I imagined that Mouthful of Birds would be highly immersive and unsettling, as Fever Dream was, but most of it simply did not sit right for me as a reader. The writing is largely matter-of-fact, and I found it impossible to connect with any of Schweblin’s characters. Whilst I might pick up a longer work of the author’s, and perhaps another novella, I am certain that her short stories do not work for me. The characters and scenarios were flat, and I was unable to suspend my disbelief.