Friday, 2 July 2010

Once Upon a Time

Today I was given a piece of very liberating advice by my good friend The Librarian. (Welcome to our country!) I was moaning, amongst other things, about a truly dreadful book that is taking me an age to read, that I dread picking up each night, and that provokes outbursts of temper several times per page. (Antisocial, as my best reading is done at night.)

The Librarian listened as I listed a catalogue of crimes against writing. "Hmm," she said, "stop reading it then."

What? Stop reading a book? Before I get to the end?

"Yes," she said. "Life's too short. And there are too many good books to bother with a bad book."

But what about the author? All the hours he put into writing such an - admittedly awful - book?

The Librarian shrugged and sipped on her peppermint and chilli tea.

I sat, stunned. Why hadn't I thought of this before?

Possibly because as Voltaire said, 'It is hard to free fools from the chains they revere.'

Anyway, this is what I've been putting up with for the past four nights (and I only managed to get to page 54):

A smile played on his lips, but he was not foolish enough to turn around, to expose himself to her devastating weapons. (No, not a gun, but her breasts, her hair and her long, slender legs.)

She threw a silk robe over her shoulders, partially covering the gorgeous figure that had made her the world's highest paid fashion model up until her early retirement four years ago at the tender age of twenty-three. (Dan Brown, eat your heart out.)

'Don't worry,' she said, opening her sparkling blue eyes with flecks of silvery gray. (I wondered why she needed silvery gray flecks to open her eyes. Had her lids gummed up?)

Their oral barrages never slackened. (What???)

Laura's hands trembled, her face and eyes harried  and swollen from the torment of the seemingly endless night she had just endured. (I know how she feels, just from the torment of reading this seemingly endless book.)

But the very worst thing about this book is that the author (Harlan Coben, stand up and be shamed) says in his introduction, after admitting that this is a reissue of a much older book: "...So this is, for better or worse (worse, Harlan, definitely worse), the exact book I wrote when I was in my early twenties ... I love this book. There is an energy and risk taking in Play Dead that I wonder if I still have."

No, there isn't. It is a dreadful book and you should have left it in a drawer with other juvenilia instead of foisting it on unsuspecting members of the public. You owe me £7.99, Harlan, and a huge bunch of flowers.

Whilst I'm on the subject of dreadful books, let me direct your attention to Close-Up by Esther Verhoef. It's published by Quercus, whom one would assume know a thing or two about crime novels, having had previous run-away success with the Steig Larsson trilogy.

It's not dreadful all the way though but I lost all patience with it on page 301. Here, (page 301!) the psychotic serial killer gets the protagonist's (a very silly woman called Margot) ex-boyfriend (John) to inject himself with an overdose of insulin. On page  330 (330!) Margot says Not many people knew John was a diabetic ...Only family and friends knew.

Indeed, the character of John was so discreet about his diabetes that it is not mentioned in 300 pages. And, as the psychotic serial killer was neither family nor a friend, and had met John a mere five minutes before murdering him - well, it's really quite a marvellous coincidence that he happened on a insulin overdose as the ideal manner in which to dispatch his victim.

At this point the only sound I can utter that will demonstrate my utter frustration is Pshaw! Are there any other books you would caution me to avoid? My literary constitution is much weakened and I now need a rest-cure.

For more crimes against writing click here


  1. I like books. But I often can't manage a whole one. The weight of all the others clamouring to be read bears down on me, although it's probably good practice to read bad novels occasionally as encouragement... if they can get published...

  2. Yep, life is too short to read a bad book. I've lived by that for years!x

  3. Hello Moptop
    Recently started following you (found you via Broken Biro).

    I no longer plod through books that haven't grabbed me by the end of the first chapter; life really is too short.

    I tried to read a book by Celia Ahern once and couldn't get past page one. I'm quite prepared to believe that something is wrong with me.

  4. The thing to do with books like that is to gather friends, stock up on what you like to drink, drink it 'till you start feeling silly then break out said book and read at random
    ROTFLOL until you can't L no more.
    Beer works best for me.

  5. I think I have lost books somehow. I used to read loads, all the time, but somehow over the last few years I have gently disengaged from fiction and now only read non-fiction, newspapers and endless gardening books. That's terrible. Must go away and mull about why. Perhaps it started when I first decided not to read bad books to the end!

  6. yeh, well maybe you should post him a copy of How Not To Write A Novel. I believe it was written using his quotes?

  7. I get to the end of about 20% of the books I try to read. I am currently investigating what all the fuss is about these Twilight books - but I can't get into the mind set of a 16yr old school girl having not been one for about a hundred years. I despair at how much drivel is actually published. The ones that get rejected by publishers must be utter crap!

  8. It's because we were all brought up to finish our plates. The same applies to books, although it shouldn't. You are to be commended (I think) for having even gotten to page 54 of the thing.

  9. @ BB - deliberately bad as opposed to accidentally bad?

    @ katyk - I'm slow on the uptake. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

    @ Christine - welcome! You don't have to leave your shoes at the door - none of that houseproud palaver here. I've identified your problem with Celia: You're not related to an important Irish politician. If you could marry in, or get a member of your family to marry in, you'd find her much more palatable.

    @ Lane - and then what? A lot of romances were pulped and used as hardcore (which probably means something completely different in the USA) for a toll road. What do you do with your pulp fiction?

    @ Elizabeth - wean yourself back onto fiction using short stories. W. Somerset Maugham or Saki for starters

    @ Anonymous - poo gosh!

    @ Anna-Marie - I met someone yesterday who'd read ALL the Twit-light books FIFTEEN times.


    @ Deborah - I like this theory. It would be churlish not to finish that book/Spotted Dick/large box of Belgian chocolates ...