On Giving Up On a Book
This is not, as you might have guessed from the title, about writing. It’s about reading.
How long should we give a book by even a beloved author, before giving up on it, if we are not enjoying it?
It’s relatively rare for me not to finish a book that I start. There are a few that I took a couple of runs at, having to start again – Ulysses springs to mind. And some that I haven’t finished, and would have to start again: Gravity’s Rainbow, Swann’s Way. I might never bother with either of those again, but you never know.
I’m fairly sure I’ll never get further than the the two or three pages I’ve managed into Finnegan’s Wake. And there’s the odd other one I’ve abandoned. One that I accidentally left on a train, and realised I didn’t care. It was something to do with an excise inspector in Scotland. No idea what it was called or who it was by.
Most of those above are what people would call difficult: something about the style, form, or content makes reading them a challenge. Overcoming that challenge can be rewarding, but we should never feel guilty about abandoning them if we’re not enjoying them, I feel. Reading for pleasure should not be a chore.
But now we come to a strange case. Claire North is an author I like a lot. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was great, and so was Touch, which I read the last time I was out of the country.
So I was pleased to get her 84k for Christmas. And I’ve tried to read it twice, but I just can’t get into it. It’s not that it’s boring or hard to read.
It’s that it’s unpleasant.
That probably doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. Lots of books have unpleasant characters, or depict upsetting or hurtful events. Lots of entertainment shows those things, TV, movies, songs…
I have mentioned here before that I don’t really care for dystopias as a subgenre.1 I’m not sure I can easily explain why that is, but they just don’t appeal.
And this is set in one. It’s largely a version of Britain, more or less present-day, but things have gone so far into privatisation, rampant capitalism, and generally Conservative party policies, that everyone knows the value of a human life.
That’s what the title means. That’s how much, in pounds, the rich have to pay to get away with murder. They can do anything else they want, too, as long as they can afford it.
I’m sure it will have a positive, maybe even uplifting, outcome. But I won’t be carrying on with it. I got about thirty pages in on my second time of starting it (only a couple the first time), and it’s just too bleak, too grim, for me to want to spend any more time there.
Maybe it’s partly the times were living in. But it’s not for me.
If that’s the right thing to call them. ↩︎