Two DNFs from the Man Booker longlist

>> Wednesday, August 19, 2015

One of my "rules" for my yearly Man Booker reading is that, although I will try as many of the books as possible, even the ones that sound like they really won't be my sort of thing at all, I am allowed to DNF them as long as I've read enough of them to get a good sense of what they are like. These two really appealed to me a priori, but both turned out not to be for me.

TITLE: The Chimes
AUTHOR: Anna Smaill

The Chimes is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic London. The written word is not available any longer, and people's lives are a constant struggle to keep memories. Anything not somehow anchored (as bodymemory, on an object) fades away pretty quickly. The whole world is music, from the Chimes several times a day (which seem to have a strong mental effect on the entire population), to the way people communicate (complex directions are always given in song).

We meet Simon as he arrives in London, not long after his mother's death. On his first day he follows a mysterious song and finds a lump of a very special metal (or mettle, as the word has evolved), which brings him into a small group of mudlarks who hunt for that mettle in a certain part of the river.

The beginning of this book was a huge struggle. Everything was really confusing, and it was tough to understand what was going on. After the first quarter or so I started to get it a bit more, but unfortunately, it still didn't work for me. I think the main problem was the issue of memory. I just didn't feel the way it was supposed to work here made sense. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to what people remembered and what they forgot after sleeping.

And the characters didn't make much sense to me either. This is something that is probably a problem with me as a reader, since unbelievable characters clearly are no obstacle to books being considered "Good Literature", but I personally need characters that make sense and who react in ways that feel believable. This doesn't mean that they have to react like me; in fact, some of my favourite books have characters that, because of where or when they live, or because of their past experiences, react in ways that are completely foreign to me. That's fine; it just has to make sense. Here, it doesn't, and this is an issue I've had with quite a few Man Booker longlisted books (e.g. the much-adored How To Be Both, last year, or Swimming Home, a couple of years earlier).

Anyway, I gave up after about a third. Too bad, because the premise sounded interesting, a bit like Philip Pullman's The Dark Materials books!

MY GRADE: A DNF.



TITLE: The Green Road
AUTHOR: Anne Enright

Like A Spool of Blue Thread, which I loved, The Green Road is about a family. Unlike in the former, though, the author's voice got in the way of my enjoyment of the latter.

The premise is that the far-flung members of an Irish family reunite after many years. I didn't get very far into it. I saw the beginning, when eldest son Dan decides he's going to be a priest, sending his mother into paroxisms of grief. Then I saw the second part, a few years later, when we see Dan living in New York in the early 90s, trying very hard not to be gay. I gave up not long after that, after about a third, so I didn't read the stories of all the other siblings. I did push on long after I started wanting to put it down, but gave up after a few days of forcing myself to pick it up.

My problem with The Green Road was mainly the voice. It put me off terribly. It's always hard to pinpoint why a particular writing style doesn't appeal, but basically, I found the style pretentious and annoying, and saw the author behind it a bit too transparently. The second section should have been great. It was a tragic time for the community she was portraying, right during the AIDS epidemic. It just felt horribly objectifying. The voice in which those young men were portrayed was very clearly from the gaze of the opposite sex and felt prurient and horrible. I also felt very detatched from the characters. I didn't care.

MY GRADE: A DNF.

2 comments:

Erin Satie 19 August 2015 at 20:56  

Huh. The Chimes sounds pretty interesting to me. It sounds like the author's fallen back on memorization techniques that used to be really common/widely taught. The Memory Palace is a way of anchoring memories on objects... and then, of course, oral storytelling uses repetition and rhythm to cue the memory & fill in gaps. I think they both go back to the Romans, maybe the Greeks.

The Memory Palace was particularly useful for orators: you'd picture a building & then imagine yourself walking through it, looking sequentially at all the objects that you'd tagged & associated with particular points or phrases, and get through a whole memorized speech without any written aides.

I just love that sort of thing. Might put that book on *my* longlist.

Rosario 21 August 2015 at 09:05  

Erin: You mean the memories I mention are anchored in objects? They're not quite Memory Palace (which is a concept I love!), they're actual objects the characters somehow imbue with memories and then carry around with them. If they lose those objects, the memories are lost. Which sort of illustrates my issues with how memory was treated here: how do they remember how to do this when all their other knowledge fades? I can get what they call "bodymemories" (how to walk, how to dress themselves, how to breathe), but something as seemingly complex as that? It just made no sense to me. Anyway, YMMV. If you do read it, I'd love to hear what you thought!

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