Monday, 23 June 2008

Bad books. Bad, BAD books.

In one of the Sundays they had a feature (notice I'm not naming either the paper - Murdoch!!! - or the writer - career misogynist!!) about books that made you see red. I had this idea way back in my previous job, maybe a nicely arranged display of "Our Least Favourite Books", but was told by my manager that there was no way Head Office would allow it.. No surprise really. What was interesting about the whole exercise, though, was the fact that pretty much all the stuff the (literary) contributors hated was in the genre of .. any guesses? Oh yes, our old friend "literary fiction" (rabbit ears back atcha, Rol). While I can see that it's possible to get worked up over the fact that someone other than oneself/one's husband/one's best friend won the Booker, or that some Old Dead Guy is lauded as a great figure of the literary world and you secretly have a chip about him because he's posh/common/gay/rich/a man, I have to say that most of the worst books I've ever read have been bad because they were just badly-written. Or unimaginative. Or, in the case of childrens' books, a downright exercise in cynical money-grabbing, like the Rainbow Fairies series - there are 60-odd of them so far, with many many more in the offing, and they work on the publishing principle that little girls will buy ANYTHING, regardless of tissue-thin plot, as long as it's pink and/or sparkly, and the title contains the words "Fairy", "Ballet" or "Unicorn". In fact there's a new (non-Rainbow Fairy) series that has all three - a fairy ballet school with talking pets, including a unicorn (and the cover's glittery!!!!). Now that makes me see red. But after my last post about literary snobbery I should just point out that none of this means I think children should be shackled to Dickens from an early age - after all, if you don't read crap you'll never learn to enjoy the good stuff...!
Herewith, anyway, my very least favourite book. I wasted 3 hours of my life speed-reading it. It is (drumroll) "Magic" by Tami Hoag. I like a bit of supernatural crime - Phil Rickman, John Connolly, and the grandfather of them all Charles Williams* - so I picked this up, foolishly thinking it might be worth a try. FOOLISHLY I tells ya. It was the worst combination of the worst possible elements - a Scooby Doo level of crime, a romance where they hate each other but just, y'know, kinda can't stop thinking about each other, and a ghost story where the author, evidently someone who's never been nearer England than an atlas, inserts an "adorable" 1920s ghost called (if I remember correctly) Archibald Wimsey, who refers anachronistically to Oxfam, and was the least cute "cute" character I've ever read. The veritable JarJar Binks of fiction. This, to quote someone sensible, is not a book to be lightly laid aside. It is to be hurled with great force.
*Charles Williams - a member of the Inklings, the same literary set as Tolkien and C S Lewis, and the least read nowadays. He wrote strange, lovely, metaphysical novels, the best-known of which was "Many Dimensions", a nearly-crime novel about the 20th century discovery, subsequent theft, and recovery of the Stone of Solomon (or Philosopher's Stone). Truly great writing, deeply questioning, and if you find a copy of any of his novels on abebooks or amazon, snap 'em up.

13 comments:

Reluctant Blogger said...

I very definitely agree re the production-line books. I haven't come across the Rainbow Fairies ones as I have three small boys but I used to get sick of those Animal Ark ones. My daughter went through a phase with those and they were awful - much the same story in each one.

I can't think of a book I have really hated. I suppose I just abandon them if I don't like them - like Tarka the Otter.

Brother Tobias said...

I know what you mean. I've just had a bad book experience. It was 'The Devil's Carousel' by Jeff Torrington. God knows, I tried. And tried. But I finally gave up on page 161, after finding that I had moved from skipping words, to paragraphs, to whole pages.

I'm afraid this may expose something lightweight in me, because the reviews were glowing ('Purely and simply a triumph', Scotsman; 'Hugely enjoyable', Sunday Times; etc.) I found it lacklustre, depressing, uninspiring, poorly written and extremely annoying, and the only huge enjoyment for me came when I put it down and picked up something better, like the relief of having a tooth extracted or something.

Especially irritating was his habit of inventing new conventions, like substituting 'm' for 'him', as in "wanted to see'm", 'r' for 'her', and so on - and we're not talking speech here, either. His first novel apparently won the Whitbread Award in 1992, so obviously I'm wrong.

I may give it to someone I dislike a little, or recommend it to someone I dislike a lot so they have to buy their own. It's made me feel that mean.

lucyfishwife said...

RB - Oh my God I remember Animal Ark. Same principle only with fairies instead of puppies. It's not as bad for boys but they still have that Captain Underpants stuff - and later, all the Boy Spy identi-books. I spend my life recommending Diana Wynne Jones, queen of queens.

BT - Welcome back! Thought the nude staircase experience had driven you mad with guilt. It happened to Noah so you're in good company (juicy off-colour bible stories they don't tell you as a kid). I recommend "Glamorama" by Brett Easton Ellis to anyone I don't like much - it combines trendiness with barely-readable gruesome nastiness, wrapped in a package of Not Very Well Written.

mantua maker said...

Before I went to Venice "Miss Garnet's Angel" by Salley Vickers was recommended to me as an "oh you've got to read this" by countless intelligent, educated literate people - which sort of made it even worse. Formulaic, clicheed, completely unoriginal, totally predictable - especially the incest, yawn. But all these other people loved it.

mantua maker said...

Not sure about that spelling of "clicheed" - you know what I mean though.

lucyfishwife said...

MM - I was recommended "Savage Garden" by Magnus Mills. It was OK until the sloppy anachronisms started to flood in - I always feel that if an author can't be bothered to research period detail they shouldn't be writing period books; although my boss says she read a laughably awful book about Mary Queen of Scots where she (MQoS) wore cerise french knickers!!!! Apparently it also contained a scene in which she makes the stable boy flog her. I think the author's interest was more than purely historical... he claimed it was non-fiction though...!

Rol said...

My absolute worst bad book experience was To Be Someone by Louise Voss. It just upset me that something so amateurish and embarrassingly cliched could ever find a publisher.

It upsets me more that Voss appears to have become a career novelist out of it.

Rol said...

Oh, and thanks Brother T - after reading the reviews, I had 'The Devil's Carousel' on my Amazon wishlist. I shall now delete it!

Brother Tobias said...

Lucy, may I misuse your comment section to admit to Rol that I may be wrong (I usually am), and to offer to send him my copy of The Devil's Carousel, gratis and without malice?

Steve said...

Being the father of two little boys I'm happy to say that we sneer at anything at all glittery or unicorny in our house... I hate it when kids get fobbed off with second rate crap. Our eldest was greatly fond of the Kipper books when he was a toddler and even as an adult I enjoyed them. It is possible to be cute without being cynical about it. Worst book I ever read was Pamela by Samuel Richardson... not so much that it was badly written just that I had to read it for my Uni course and it just wouldn't end... but ploughed on interminably and ridiculously.

lucyfishwife said...

BT/Rol - feel free, I did exactly the same early in my blogging career as I hadn't yet understood the nuances and niceties. Did it in Rol's comments page too!

Steve - Two younger brothers and two younger male cousins, so I also sneer and mock at anything with glitter. We liked Kipper, and "Burglar Bill" by Alan Ahlberg was a major fave.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I admire your tenacity in getting to the end of a *bad* book. Being such a slow reader if I am not enjoying something I tend to give up by page 50 (or even sooner) and not really care what happens after that, so therefore I could never begin to start listing the worst books I have ever read, merely a few I've never finished!

Am I missing something?

Certainly I'd be a rubbish reviewer!

lucyfishwife said...

Laura - I speed read (self taught and not always a good thing) so if I'm not enjoying a book I gallop through it. I HAVE to finish it (probably another manifestation of OCD!) - bit like finishing what's on my plate..