I can imagine how hard it is to write a book, and to write one that people not only choose to read, but might actually even like.
Notwithstanding this, I can be a harsh critic. I’ve read a few books recently that would have been so much better if they’d just had a bit less … y’know … [*sigh*] … or perhaps fewer … [*hmmm*]….
Let me explain it better: here are my top ten books that need less stuff.
I wish, oh wish, that:
10. The Mysteries of Udolpho had fewer pages
I’m really, really enjoying Ann Radcliffe’s novel, but oh my, I’ve been reading it for about 6 weeks now. This is a seriously long book. I’m sure I’m not the first reader to have wished it’d been a little more strenuously edited. Maybe publishing houses weren’t as focussed on such things in 1794? I can’t imagine this would be published in its entirety in 2017.
9. Before the Fall had less testosterone
The New York Times called Noah Hawley’s book one of 2016’s best suspense novels. It had a great plot and some tense moments, but for me it felt overcooked, like Hawley had force-fed it steroids to bulk it up. In particular, most of the male characters were alpha-male, aggressive stereotypes with evidently too much testosterone circulating their body. Television anchor Bill Milligan was particularly odious: “I went to Stony Book. State school. And when I got out, none of those fucks from Harvard or Yale would give me the time of day. And pussy? Forget it. I had to sleep with Jersey girls for six years until I got my first on-air”. I like to think that men like this don’t really exist….
8. Black Rock White City had a less precipitous ending
A.S. Patric’s debut novel won the Miles Franklin Award last year. It’s a really interesting story (and one that doesn’t get told enough) about the immigrant experience in Australia. But it felt like Patric had written two novels then joined them together – one about a serial killer and one about Jovan and Suzana’s life in outer-suburban Melbourne. The latter half of the book largely lost sight of the murder until the second last page when all of sudden, he/she is revealed but without motive or explanation. I found this quite unsatisfactory. Please explain!
7. The Day My Bum Went Psycho had fewer bums
Many a road trip has been taken with the nasal twang of Stig Weymss pulsing through the car stereo, reading another of Andy Griffith’s kids books. Masters Seven and Five love these books and I’m thankful for the distraction they provide during long hours in the car. Our most recent trip featured the audio backdrop of The Day My Bum Went Psycho: ‘the story of a crack bum-fighting unit called the B-team, a legendary Bum Hunter and his formidable daughter, and some of the biggest, ugliest and meanest bums ever to roam the face of the Earth’. My verdict? A few bums are okay, but this book went a bum too far.
6. The Life of Elves had fewer adjectives
Muriel Barbery seems to elicit either love or hate. I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but I couldn’t even finish The Life of Elves, as I wrote here. In addition to the muddle of a plot, it’s completely overwritten. The prose is florid and incredibly ornate. Every paragraph has too-long sentences, too many adjectives and unnecessary metaphors that at times made me wince.
5. The Course of Love had less pontificating
Alain de Botton is one of those authors that I read about in serious, eyebrows-furrowed, hushed-toned literary articles and is always mentioned reverentially. He might be one of the literary elite, but I reckon The Course of Love has too much pontificating. The story at the centre of the book is refreshing; it’s a simple romance that tracks one couple’s relationship through all of its average-ness and lack of glamour. De Botton has interspersed this narrative with italicised paragraphs that offer his philosophical observations about relationships. Some of these are interesting, but I think most readers are smart enough to understand the points he’s making through the fictionalised relationship, without these awkward interjections.
4. The Girl on a Train had less hype
I just can’t decide whether to read this. I’ve seen glowing reviews about the book and the film, but there’s also a load of reviews that have rubbished both. Perhaps if I’d read this book when it first hit the shelves there would be a whole less expectation placed on its spine.
3. Fight Like a Girl had less rage
I admire what Clementine Ford has done; sadly, you need to be really brave to call yourself a feminist and put your views on social media these days. You only need to look at Ford’s Twitter feed (@) or her Facebook page for a matter of seconds before you see the toe-curling obscenities hurled at her daily. Facing that all the time would make me angry. However, I wish she’d held back on this anger, even just a little when writing Fight Like a Girl. As I wrote in my review here, I’d have liked the book a whole lot more if was a bit less ranty and a lot more considered. Less rage and more equanimity could have made this book a true manifesto for a generation.
2. The Last Painting of Sara De Vos had less ‘creativity’ in its accents
As I suggested in my recent review of the audio version of Dominic Smith’s novel, you’re better off with the print edition for this one. The narrator’s Aussie accent went AWOL, travelled the world over and never came back.
1. Pride and Prejudice attracted fewer pastiches
I’m not against re-configuring classics and giving them a spit and polish for modern readers. Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed (which I reviewed here) is a great example of where it can work. But P&P seems to have attracted far more than its fair share, and quite a lot test the boundaries of taste, for example, Mr Darcy, Vampyre; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; and the terrible Eligible to which I gave no stars, despite not having read it. Let’s give Elizabeth and Mr Darcy a rest for a while, like, for a couple of centuries.
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. If you haven’t already, you should check out their fabulous blog.