Tuesday 6 November 2018

RIP Reads that didn't really do it for me

I was going to review the following two books separately, because one is from my 30 before 30 list whereas the other I read purely for RIP XIII. However, they both fell down for me in similar ways, so to avoid being too repetitive, I've decided to whack them together in one post to try and examine exactly what it was that didn't work for me in each case. Let's go!

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin (30 before 30: #4)
I pretty much solely read this book because it was on my 30 before 30 list and I'll be damned if I can resist a challenge. I don't know why I couldn't really get into this book, but I think it might have had something to do with the fact that you are quite literally just dropped onto another planet without proper context, and from there you're left to just run along after the narrative without any real help from the author. I'm not saying this book isn't clear, but it took me a very very long time to realise that there were two different narrators, not one, and I don't think it's because I wasn't paying enough attention.

It's a shame, too, because there are one or two soulful, interesting, life lessons-y moments that made me go 'oh! Oh right! THAT'S why this book made that list', like the below:
"Gethenians could make their vehicles go faster, but they do not. If asked why not, they answer 'why?' Like asking Terrans why all our vehicles must go so fast; we answer 'why not?' No disputing tastes. Terrans tend to feel they've got to get ahead, make progress. The people of Winter, who always live in the Year One, feel that progress is more important than presence."
And also, I mean, this one:
"'The unknown... the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God, there would be no religion... But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion... Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable - the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?'
'That we shall die.'
'Yes. There's really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer... The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.'"
Good, right? But, both of these little nuggets of goodness are contained within the first 70 pages and egh, I can't even tell you what the plot was, honestly. There were some very well written parts, of course, and some deep deep messages, but for the most part I was bewildered and confused and also huh? If the writing was good, the storytelling was, in my opinion, somewhat lacking.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (RIP XIII Book the Fourth)
Similarly to The Left Hand of Darkness, Something Wicked This Way Comes is very well written. Something Wicked also has the advantage of having a plot that one can follow, and that is a Very Good Thing indeed. The premise of the novel itself is incredibly creepy - a circus blows into a town and, rather than being a joyful place for children and adults to visit, is a horror show of epic proportions. There's a carousel that can fling you forwards and backwards in time, a hall of mirrors where you can get lost forever, and the circus folk quite literally stalk our two boy heroes across town.

HOWEVER. Bear with me, because the thing I am about to say is kind of stupid, but it's also the exact truth. For me, the fact that this novel is so well written turned into a weakness because it somehow managed to make it less creepy. The beautiful writing (and the writing is beautiful) creates a distance between the horror of the events and the reader, so as I was reading, I was distracted by the beautiful sentences and so was less scared than I could have been. This sounds like a really stupid complaint, but it's relevant - the writing style needs to match the tone trying to be created, otherwise dammit I'm going to be distracted because the excellent language is keeping me at a distance from the story.

So, yes. These books were not my favourite, but they weren't exactly terrible either. I'm sure they have their audiences and are much beloved by others, but not so much by me.

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