I finish most of the books I start reading, but every couple of months something comes along that I realise I’m just not enjoying or I’m finding too slow/hardgoing to get into. So I stop.
I’m happy with that choice, but then I’m faced with the decision of what to do with the book. Do I just get rid of it, strike it off the to read list forever? (I’m pretty sure Tim is nodding furiously at this one, as we’ve already had to add another bookcase to the library!) Or do I keep hold of it for another time? Sometimes the answer is clear, but sometimes there really can be a right time and a wrong time for a particular book, and I’d hate to miss out on something wonderful because I made a snap decision when I was in the wrong mood.
With that in mind, here are the last three books I gave up on part-way through. These aren’t exactly reviews, because I read less than 100 pages of each. Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Do any of them deserve another chance?
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
translated from French by Alison Anderson
This had been recommended in several places so I thought it was a great find when I spotted it in a charity shop. The synopsis – Parisian concierge strikes up an unusual friendship with a 12 year old in the building who has secretly decided to kill herself on her 13th birthday – sounded interesting, and I usually love stories set in Paris. Not so this one. More than anything I am reminded of Sophie’s World – it seems to be a series of short essays on philosophy and the arts (and not particularly good ones) with a thin veneer of story. The two alternating narrators are both intensely annoying. The concierge is obsessed with hiding the fact that she is cultured and loves to read, because apparently no-one would expect that of the working class. (I mean, really? Wasn’t that the origin of Penguin Books back in the 1930s? Perhaps it’s a French thing.) The 12-year-old rambles on about how clever she is and really has raised not one iota of sympathy in me. An unfortunate event has just happened (on p80 or so) so maybe it changes from here on in, but it would have to be a radical change to keep me reading.
Published 2008 by Europa Editions.
Ghana Must Go
by Taiye Selasi
Almost the opposite of the Barbery book, this is beautifully written and there’s plenty of story happening. I loved the language and was marking favourite passages constantly, but I kept losing track of the story. The book opens with the death of Kwaku Sai, a Ghanian doctor who moved back to Ghana after many years in America and has married a younger woman his children (now grown and still living in the US) don’t approve of. His death is slowly drawn out, filled with the memories of his life that he lingers on as his heart fails. There’s a whole life to tell, so it doesn’t feel dragged out, but I did sometimes get confused about past versus present. While I loved the language, I found it hard work and wasn’t drawn into the story. But I think I’d like to give this another try.
Published 2013 by Viking.
I wanted to like this book, I really did. I loved Sobel’s breakout hit Longitude, which doesn’t deal with an obviously interesting to me subject, but Sobel made it fascinating. In this case there’s again a historical setting – the 16th century – plus the added interest of how Copernicus balanced his life as a priest with his growing interest in astronomy. I didn’t get as far as his controversial observation that the Earth is not in fact the centre of the universe. I didn’t even get as far as the fictional play script in the middle of the straight biography (which to be honest I was wary of). I’m afraid I was bored. Perhaps it’s an artefact of there being few primary sources of Copernicus’s life to draw on, but I didn’t feel that Sobel brought the period or Copernicus alive for me.
Published 2011 by Bloomsbury.