My Break-Up With Novel X


3 August 2009

I dropped a book off at the library the other day, and a huge weight lifted from my shoulders.  This particular book was a stone around my neck.  I’m going to finish you, I’m going to finish you, I chanted for weeks, then months.   Finally, more than 2/3 through, I gave up.

I’m usually pretty liberal about quitting books (in the early pages) that I’m finding slow-going or otherwise unengaging; there’s just too much to read, and  I’m a slow reader.  It often takes me a few false-starts before I happen upon the “right” book, the one that I need to be reading.  So quitting a book, in other words, is nothing personal; it’s not you, it’s me, I want to say to the book.  Really, it is.

Usually, it’s about timing.  I may not finish the book right now, but I will eventually.  If I got to the book in the first place, there was a good reason; so I almost always come back to it. But I probably won’t be coming back to this one.

I’m not sure why I stuck it out in the first place.  Maybe because it was written by an author who’d been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.  Maybe because the book seemed smart to me, the writing sharp and lucid.

This is all a little neurotic, I know.  Like a dysfunctional romance.

In the end, I’m attributing the premature termination of my relationship with this book to something I wasn’t quite aware of prior to this experience; which is my distaste for novels that are essentially cynical.  This novel is what I’d call “bittersmart”– about ugly affluent people with ugly affluent problems.  It’s not that I feel in any way superior to or judgmental of these characters or their stories; it’s that, I suppose, on some basic level, I read for hope, not commiseration.  These days, anyway. 

Might the novel have ended on a hopeful, vaguely redemptive note?  I may never find out.  I suppose I could do some research, find a review.  I don’t know, though.  Part of me wants my experience with this book to stand on its own.  An empirical reality, barred from external influences.

Bolano’s 2666 has so far swept me away.  What a difference.  This is definitely a book that I need to be reading.


5 Responses to “My Break-Up With Novel X”

  1. Brad Green Says:

    I’m curious as to whether you’re going to find any of those redemptive notes in 2666. That’s one of those books that I started and put down for something else. I haven’t returned to it yet. It’s those books that I stop and start again that usually end up very rewarding, however. I look forward to reading your thoughts on it.

  2. dannypeters Says:

    It’s very strange to me that you’d give up 2/3 the way through. It reminds me of those kids who drop out of high school during the second-to-last week.

    I’ve found that on very large books, I tend to take a month or longer to read the first half, but once I reach that peak, I zoom through the rest.

    • sonyachung Says:

      DP, it’s strange to me, too. I don’t know if I’ve ever done such a thing after having put in so much time. It speaks to how unpleasant this book was (for me, at this particular time). Stranger is that I pushed along as far as I did.

      Chris, thanks for coming by. I decided not to name novel-x, because I take the doling out of negative reviews seriously, and I’m not sure I’m ready to give this one an actual negative review, as opposed to an account of a negative experience with it.

      Updates on 2666 soon.

  3. Lisa N.R. Says:

    I am swooning over Bolaño’s “Last Evenings on Earth.” Thanks for the rec. Definitely what I need to be reading right now. Maybe I”ll get to “Savage Detectives” soon; it’s good I own my copy and don’t have to get it back to the library. Keep the hope alive; I know what kind of hope you’re talking about.

  4. Chris Says:

    oh man, savage detectives and 2666 are two of my most favourite books now…

    so you can’t tell us which book x is? which year was it shortlisted? Oh wait the author was shortlisted not just the book… that makes it trickier…

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