Nick Hornby has compiled a list of novels he’s been unable to finish:
1. J by Howard Jacobson – A worthy successor to John Berger’s equally stupefying G. Passing page 50 is an achievement.
2. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eiemear McBride – Great novel, whatever it means. I suspect a few Booker judges stopped around page 40. Their lips are sealed.
3. If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino – Italian jiggery-pokery. It has 12 openings so you can stop at page 2 a dozen times.
4. The Sacred Fount by Henry James – Why did Emily Brontë have to die so young, and he live so long after he stopped writing readable fiction? Stop at page one – for all but PhD candidates.
5. The Amazing Marriage by George Meredith – Any Meredith would work here, really. I gave up around page 50 – my usual tether.
6. Ada by Vladimir Nabokov – He knew readers would keep going for the sexy bits: then didn’t write them.
7. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – Like swimming through setting cement.
8. IQ84 by Haruki Murakami – Can 80 million readers – or whatever it is – be wrong? Yes. Good opening scene, though.
9.La Disparition by Georges Perec – The one that doesn’t use the letter ‘e’. Stop with the e-less title. You’ve got the point.
10. Moby Dick by Herman Melville – Read the first 10 chapters and the last three. Avoid the rest.
Two items in his list coincide with mine: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller and 1Q84. I don’t think it has to do with stupidity; I mean, reading requires intellectual effort, yes, but when I put down a book, most of the time it’s not because I feel stupid but because I’m bored.
There are many, many books that I left unfinished. But this list reminds me of those four titles that I had to read, but didn’t enjoy the slightest: recently The Glass Bead Game and The Sorrows of an American and some years ago, Blue Angel and Ludmila’s Broken English.
I found the Glass Bead Game dull and uninvolving – I kept hoping for that exciting twist right until the end, and my hopes were irrevocably dashed after the last chapter (550+ pages). The imaginary country described in the book was depressing. At least with the Glass Bead Game I felt that the author put in a lot of effort into his work. The Sorrows of an American appeared to me to be a weak novel unfortunately. I didn’t feel attracted to the characters and the plot simply failed to move me. What made things worse was that I literally had to finish the book in 24 hours – in time for a book club meeting. These two books I had to read for my PhD fieldwork.
There’s also Blue Angel, which I found thoroughly disturbing – particularly that poem where an incestuous father compares his daughter’s ribcage to a dove’s stayed with me. I also had to speedread DBC Pierre’s Ludmila’s Broken English, which felt grotesque in a teenagey way – lots of violence culminating in scenes of sexual torture. It’s allegorical, but that wasn’t a redeeming quality for me. Both of these novels I had to read for a publishing house; I really don’t get their taste.
Anyway, I think everyone has the liberty to put down any book that doesn’t agree with them – it can get quite painful.