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Five brilliant novels but I couldn’t enjoy them

  1. John Crace Being Dead. Begins with a gruesome murder and then traces the victims’ lives leading up to that moment, and describes in detail the putrefaction of the corpses. I was too squeamish for this, though John Crace as a writer of beautiful and evocative prose is second to none.
  2. Margaret Drabble The Dark Flood Rises. A cool, quizzical look at ageing through the experiences of several characters, none of whom I liked particularly. Very little in the way of plot. So I wasn’t gripped, though I was, as usual with her novels, full of admiration for Margaret Drabble’s writing  style, erudition and astute observation of human nature.
  3. Margaret Atwood Hag-seed. This is a take on Shakespeare’s Tempest. Perhaps too clever and complicated for me, or perhaps I don’t know The Tempest well enough. Atwood remains one of my favourite writers, and her skill shines through, so I may give this another try after re-reading the Shakespeare.
  4. Otessa Moshfegh Eileen. One Amazon reviewer says ‘it will wipe the smile off your face.’ Moshfegh achieves this so brilliantly that one has to admire her. I can’t forget the characters and the story, but I wish I could.
  5. Kent Haruf Our Souls at Night. A gentle, exquisitely written story about love and ageing. I think it is one of the best novels I have read in 2016, up there with Elizabeth Strout’s. I am going to read all of Haruf’s work. Our Souls at Night is on this list because it made me so sad – perhaps I identified too much with the lonely elderly protagonists.

Two questions for you: Do you have any books to add? And  is it important that a novel should be ‘enjoyable’ – and what does that mean?


7 thoughts on “Five brilliant novels but I couldn’t enjoy them

  1. I find it difficult to categorise a book as brilliant if I don’t like it. If I find it enjoyable on any level that’s a different thing. I often seem to cross swords (opinion wise) when a book has great plaudits – maybe I can’t identify the brilliance.
    The obvious one that springs to mind is Pride & Prejudice….I cannot find any redeeming features in it, really hate it, really, really hate it and yet am told it IS “brilliant”
    Each to her own!

  2. Thanks Wendy. Interesting. Do you like any other Austen novels?
    I restricted my self to books read in 2016. Otherwise I would have added Wuthering Heights. I can’t see a single redeeming feature in it and have really tried to.
    I think it is possible to enjoy aspects of someone’s writing but not enjoy the whole reading experience.

  3. I have certainly read some brilliant books that I didn’t enjoy for much the same reasons as you. Sometimes because I don’t like the characters but I think the writing is great, sometimes because I don’t enjoy reading about violence or abuse (e.g. Crash by J.G. Ballard), sometimes it’s because a book is such hard work (e.g. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski).

    We don’t necessarily read for enjoyment all the time. We may read to expand our minds, take us out of our comfort zones, or learn something – even from fiction. So I don’t think there’s any contradiction in thinking a book is brilliant, while not enjoying it much or at all. That’s different from not thinking a book is brilliant when everyone else seems to!

    However, I think it helps with reviews etc if readers enjoy a book! Liking the characters is a huge part of that for most readers, I think.

  4. Philip S Davies

    I struggle to enjoy much of the Young Adult fiction being published at the moment, because too much of it is grim and depressing, under the guise of being “gritty and realistic”. Most of them also seem to be “issue-driven”, at the expense of good storytelling. So yes, enjoying a book is very important to me, and that normally means empathising with the main characters and a well-told tale.

  5. I so agree with you Philip. I struggle to find anything to recommend to my 14 year-old granddaughter. The book which has been her all-time favourite so far has been ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ which was not of course written as a ‘young adult’ novel but because Mark Haddon wanted to write about something that had caught his interest – an important social issue is covered in the novel but it’s not ‘issue-driven’. Also so much of the ‘gritty and realistic’ stuff is trying too hard and ultimately unconvincing.

  6. So refreshing when someone admits reading a highly-acclaimed book and not enjoying it! You have every right not to, and from the sound of these 5 you read in 2016, I don’t think they’re for me either. I also can’t bear Wuthering Heights though admire the extraordinary, weird imagination that created it. And I agree with Philip about YA fiction. If it doesn’t deal with war, massacres, mutilation, cancer, bereavement, misery, addiction or dystopias in which beautiful teenagers are torn limb from limb, it’s not YA. Groan.

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