Monday, July 4, 2011

Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater . . .

I just can't do it. While I almost always make myself soldier on to the end of a novel, I've had to abandon two in the last few months. The first was the latest instalment in Jean Auel's prehistoric saga -- I'd read and enjoyed the first three decades ago and thought I'd enjoy e-reading The Land of Painted Caves. But although I hung in for many chapters, I've finally abandoned the book, although I haven't yet deleted it.

Anne Marsella's The Baby of Belleville grabbed my attention when I read a review of it on some Paris blog or other. And at first its quirky sentence-conscious prose, filled with enhanced-vocabulary word choices, was endearing, its whimsical treatment of Catholicism and Islam as they mingle in Paris's Belleville, was appealing. Perhaps Jane-ites will embrace it; perhaps they already have. But for me the quirkiness and whimsy teetered the balance right over into flattening out the characters, obviously caricatures and thus not finally engaging for me. There are certainly some wonderful moments, especially ones that new mothers will recognize, as for instance when Jane (ah-ha) comments to the reader, after her mother-in-law asks if the baby is getting enough milk, "The enough-milk question, as any nursing mother will agree, provokes in the maternal provider, that industrious twenty four-hour diner, a strong desire to slap the offender silly."  Controlling her instincts, she cleverly answers, "Does the Lord get enough love? There is no way to measure that, but certainly He thrives." and advises the reader that "Putting it in catechism terms, as a matter held in the hands of faith, conveyed my point to Mathilde." Clever. Amusing. Yes, And there are numerous such moments. But finally, these happy instances could not tempt me past page 259.

So there. Life is simply too full of books to read and too short of time for reading them. And I'm old enough and wise enough to give myself permission.

So two questions for you? 1)Have you read either of these two novels and have any argument to sway my decision? 2) Have you abandoned any novels partway through recently, or ever?


  1. Nope, haven't read either, although I have considered the Auel because I rather enjoyed the earlier volumes.

    As for not finishing, I do give myself permission to abandon books I can't stomach or force myself to plow through. Life is too short. I can't recall one lately, but I've been known to throw more than one James Patterson novel across the room in disgust. Of the books I could not finish, the most memorable ones were The Shipping News, Wicked, and The Man Without Qualities. Surprisingly I got through The DaVinci Code even though I threw it across the room on more than one occasion and it was every bit as bad as Wicked.

  2. The older I get, the more I give myself to to abandon a book unfinished. It's very difficult though, because I've always felt I had to finish what I started or it would eat away at me.

    Eat, Pray, Love was one. I made it through Italy and couldn't keep going... I never really got what everyone was raving about with that book. It didn't touch me and I found her writing style or whatever personality came through to be a little annoying. Don't know why...

  3. I haven't read either but I have increasingly less (can I say that?) interest in finishing books that aren't 'working' for me. Even my light reading has to meet my (possibly odd) standards. I figure life is too short to spend on books I don't like. I do try harder with books I know are 'worthy' but even then I'll dump them if I'm getting stuck. There's so much out there I DO want to read, why waste time on stuff that's annoying me?

  4. Mardel: If you get 'round to Painted Caves, let me know if it's just me . . . I had looked forward to sinking into a guilty pleasure of a hammock book, but just couldn't get into it. Too much research shoved on the page.
    Haven't tried the Musil; suppose I should. . . probably won't. Loved The Shipping News so that surprises me on your list, but I share your frustration with Patterson and have probably thrown one or two myself. Could not get past page 20 of The DaVinci code.

    Anon: It's hard to let oneself put the unfinished book down, isn't it?! But I'm glad we're learning to. I liked the Italy section of EPL and tolerated the rest for the sake of my daughter who loved it. I think there's a craving for spirituality that it somehow met for many.
    Tiffany: It's taken me a while, but I'm finally staking out a position pretty close to yours. Why waste time?!