I’ve been fortunate recently to have read a series of really enjoyable books – I don’t mean books in a series, I mean several different books by different authors one after another. Looking back over what I’ve written about other books, I came across this, which describes the opposite of what my reading has recently been:
Treacle to me is what is generally known as golden syrup, distinguished from what other people call treacle (meaning molasses) which I call black treacle. I can’t think why anyone would call it golden syrup – we don’t talk about golden syrup pudding but treacle pudding. Golden syrup tart? Treacle tart! … anyway, the treacle I’m thinking about is not real it’s how I feel about the book I am reading at the moment.
It’s a very well-thought of, well-reviewed book… “witty … playful…. a wonderful comedy of manners”, “gorgeously written… a tour de force…”… by a great and much revered writer – “…renowned internationally..” and a Booker prize winner, I first read a book by the author many years ago and was entranced! Maybe it was my age, or maybe I was better at reading, or maybe… maybe… maybe… even though that book was a tough read I really liked it. I bought a second novel and I was aghast – it was ghastly! Had I failed as a reader, this acclaimed novelist couldn’t write a terrible book – I must be a terrible reader… I was so disappointed and unusually for me then, I didn’t finish it. These days, if I have given a book a good try and after many hours I am not enjoying it and struggling, then I confess, I do give up. I have so many other books to enjoy!
The book I’m reading t the moment is for my book club, and I feel obliged to do my best, but honestly, it really is like wading through treacle. Adjective piled on adjective, long, tortuous sentences which I lose track of after more than several clauses, Set in the 1980’s it seems a word away from the 1980’s I knew, more like a pre-war world of class divide and pretentious eccentricity (ok, there is still a massive class-divide, and there is still a might amount of pretentious eccentricity)
Here’s an example of the adjective-overload:
At the end of this dim room was an open fireplace, in which a few huge logs still smouldered in a bed of white ash; on either side of this were two heavy, curved and padded armchairs, covered in velvet, a dark charcoal colour, patterned with dark purple flowers, a kind of glamorised fin-de-siècle bindweed. The floor was covered with large red and white vinyl tiles, rubbed in ridges that betrayed the presence of flagstones underneath. Under the window was a heavy table, thick-legged and partly covered with oil-cloth patterned with tartan checks.
Vivid, descriptive, but every single thing is described in similar smothering detail. There are whole pages describing a room, a person,, the countryside. No character can do anything without several adverbs attached to each tiny action.
The story is intriguing, but I’m beginning to think I don’t even care as layer upon layer of narrative, story-line upon story-line, a myriad of characters – and their points of view, is overwhelming me. 576 pages, 198,360 words… That is a lot of words. I’m struggling, I’m drowning, and I just want to abandon it…
So what is this ship of a novel that I want to flee like a rat – it’s ‘Possession‘ by A.S. Byatt:
National Bestseller Winner of England’s Booker Prize and the literary sensation of the year, Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas. An exhilarating novel of wit and romance, an intellectual mystery, and a triumphant love story. This tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets became a huge bookseller favourite, and then on to national bestellerdom.
No… I don’t think so.
I guess it has been thrown into contrast for me by the book I have just finished reading, elegantly and lightly and engagingly written – ‘A Voyage For Madmen’ – Peter Nichols…
Here is an interesting article… which I totally agree with: